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Rescue Dairy Farmers: Outlaw Milk

Despite all sorts of government help, dairy farmers say they can’t make a living milking their cows. Meanwhile, marijuana growers are doing just fine with a product nobody is allowed to cultivate, possess, transport or sell.

This is the opposite of what we want. Milk is good for us (especially babies), and cows are cute (especially babies). Meanwhile, the folks who supply us (especially our babies) with pot are the ones we want to put out of business.

So let’s flip the policies. We should outlaw milk and provide price supports and marketing boards to sustain the marijuana industry. Close your eyes and picture the billboards along America’s highways inquiring, “Anyone seen Mary Jane?”

Dairy farmers will benefit from a new, artificially high price on a product most people buy but nobody can openly sell. Meanwhile, America’s pastoral landscape will feature weed growing like weeds. We’ll have so much of the stuff that the government probably will force refineries to turn it into ethanol so we can pump it into our cars. Prices will collapse anyway and growers will scream bloody murder. But nobody will actually be getting killed, which is not currently the case, as anyone in Mexico can attest.

The Burlington Free Press reports that the price farmers get for their milk has crashed in the past year. In June 2008, dairy farmers in Middlebury, Vermont, could expect $18.91 per hundredweight, or 11.6 gallons, of milk. This year, that price was down to $11.28. Vermont state legislators Sen. Sara Kittell, D-Franklin, and Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham, wrote in a letter to Vermont’s State Agriculture Secretary Roger Allbee that the average cost of production is $17.88 per hundredweight.

That means that, at current prices, dairy farmers are losing money. It also means they cannot make money unless they always receive just about the highest price they have ever seen, which was the case last year. Most businesses are allowed to go bankrupt if this is the case. But hey, these are dairy farmers. They are nice people who buy alarm clocks with no snooze buttons.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has accused Dean Foods, a milk distributor which Sanders says controls approximately 70 percent of the dairy market in New England, of contributing to the “disastrously low prices” paid to dairy farmers. The decrease in prices has not been passed on to consumers who continue to pay an average of $3.01 per gallon while farmers receive just $1 per gallon, Sanders said.

Dairy farmers and their elected representatives are turning to Washington for the answers. While the prices of other products depend on the fluctuations of the free market, milk has not been subject to this laissez-faire approach. The U.S. Department of Agriculture boasts in its 24-page primer on milk pricing that “Over the past 125 years, a complex pricing system has evolved to deal with the problems of milk production, assembly, and distribution.” The U.S.D.A does admit that “The very complexity of the system, however, has baffled many and led to numerous misconceptions.”

The marijuana trade, on the other hand, operates quite outside government regulation and seems to be getting along very well without any “complex pricing system.” The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency reports that marijuana production appears to be increasing in Mexico, the U.S. and Canada. We do not hear marijuana growers demanding federal price supports or complaining about their distributors. Of course, the distributors often carry Uzis, which may have something to do with it.

Admittedly, my approach means we will have to lock up a few kids who are indiscreet about their milk and cookies at snack time. Those shiny tanker trucks will have to leave the Interstate and take back roads through the woods. But there will be milk for all and everyone in the business will prosper, just as the marijuana sellers do now.

Meanwhile, pot growers, under the auspices of the U.S.D.A., will have to deal with quality standards, commodity prices, futures markets and state-run marketing boards. There will be fights about what qualifies as organic smoke and appeals for price supports from farmers under pressure from evil, monopolistic corporate mega-buyers.

In a year or two those hardworking New England farmers will be anxiously monitoring their cannabis, hoping for plants at least knee-high by the Fourth of July. The heifers will be locked up in the barn, or shall we say, the grow house. But don’t feel sorry for them. All that pot has to go someplace. I expect the Holsteins in those barns will be laughing their heads off, suffering from no more than a permanent case of the munchies.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business."

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