- Associated Press - Saturday, December 19, 2015

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) - Montana dairy producers are worried after the state Department of Livestock proposed increases on dairy inspection fees that some say could cripple small dairies.

The proposal would nearly double the charge for milk producers and add a minimum $725 fee per month for processors, including cheesemakers and large producers who are not charged under current rules.

Under state laws, the department is required to charge its licensees to cover the cost of inspections.

The department says it has a $130,000 deficit, but small dairies said they would get hit the worst.

“You choose the option that wouldn’t bring in the most revenue, but the one that would cripple the small dairies,” said Lark Gilmer, owner of Poor Orphan Creamery in Sheridan. Currently, there are fewer than 80 licensed dairy operations across the state.

Gilmer said with fewer producers, the costs are rising.

Dairy owners are also asking why they are being charged for inspections, which they consider a public health issue, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported (http://tinyurl.com/zn9cg4j ).

“There’s other options that we haven’t considered for funding this health issue. There’s got to be other options available to us,” said Gilmer.

Department officials say they don’t believe lawmakers will change the rules.

“An agency going to the Legislature is not very popular and not very effective,” Zaluski said. “It’s not so easy for us to say that we need more resources for this particular problem.”

The current system pleases no one. Larger processors often have in-house testing facilities and say they should pay lower fees. Smaller dairy owners said they don’t make enough money to absorb a fee increase.

Chad Lee, Milk Control Bureau chief, said reducing inspections could have a devastating effect.

“Potentially you could have the result where the plants would lose their ability to ship out of state, which would put dairies out of business for sure,” Lee said.

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Information from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle, http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com

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