A short letter to the editor showed up here at Lancaster Farming on Oct. 11 from a Maryland reader. In the letter, she has one simple request, when it comes to voting on the federal dairy reform package, she would like every farmer to get a vote instead of letting the dairy cooperatives vote for their members.
If you are not a dairy farmer, you might be wondering, what is the big deal? The issue at question for some is whether their voices are being heard. The fear is that under the current system, the true preferences of farmers might become skewed.
If a farmer has an independently contracted operation that sells directly to a processor, when a dairy referendum is called, he is issued a ballot. Independent farmers then vote their opinion on the measure.
In contrast, dairy farmers in most cooperatives “block vote.” In other words, their votes are cast by the cooperative after delegate action decides to support or reject the referendum. And in many cooperatives, the governing structure gives all the farmer-member ballots to the winning side.
When the measure is widely supported, the winner-take-all method does not cause much of a stir. When it is a more controversial measure, however, which could result in a close decision, the winner-take-all method begins to make some farmers nervous.
And in all honesty, I think it is fair that they should be nervous. What if the official vote count goes like the 2000 presidential election, where the popular vote goes one way but the Electoral College shows a different outcome? The question becomes: Is that really fair or right? I would guess most farmers would say no. As to how to fix the issue, it will be up to cooperative farmer members to decide if they like block voting or if they want to reform their referendum voting system.
- Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade, Special Sections Editor
Editor’s Note: the original letter to the editor published on Oct. 15 is as follows.
Let Us Decide
I think it is very important that we as dairy farmers are able to choose and let the majority rule on the new farm policy.
I don’t think our co-op leaders should be making this decision for us. They don’t pay our bills.
Let’s get the government, the milk market administrator, to send each farm a ballot so that we may vote on our future.
If you have more than one farm, you would be allowed only one vote.
— Susie Nash, Harford County, Md.