- Associated Press - Monday, July 4, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The North Dakota Farmers Union will fight for better price protections for milk to stimulate the state’s slumping dairy industry, the group’s president said.

Watne said the price paid by consumers is not representative of the price paid to producers. The additional cost is “added by people beyond the farm gate,” he told the Bismarck Tribune.

Watne said his group has joined farm union groups from Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota and California to lobby lawmakers for a higher price point that will cover the cost of milk and “allow dairies to survive.”

The national average price received by farmers for milk fell to $14.5 per hundred pounds in May compared with $16.8 a year ago and $24.2 per hundred pounds two years ago in May, according to U.S. Agriculture Department data.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Watne said of getting price protections started. “But we’re out in (Washington) D.C. having those conversations already.”

The group, which has more than 40,000 members, also wants farmers to have ownership in any new processing plant built in the Upper Midwest to add to their profits as the raw product goes through processing. He points to similar ownership structures in sugar beet processing.

The North Dakota Farmers Union led the campaign and spent more than $1 million to reverse the Legislature’s decision last year to exempt pork and dairy operations from the state’s anti-corporate farming law. North Dakota voters overwhelmingly rejected the law last month.

State agriculture data show the number of dairy farms in North Dakota has decreased from about 540 in 2002 to fewer than 90 at present.

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com

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