Four public meetings were held this week, kicking off what organizers described as the “Think Tank” phase to review the California quota system. Each meeting started with a brief welcome and words of endorsement for the process from representatives of the cooperatives, the STOP QIP effort and United Dairy Families (UDF), the group of producers specifically formed to create a platform to share ideas on quota and the Quota Implementation Plan (QIP).
The two-hour meetings were designed to stimulate audience participation. Facilitating this was Dr. Marin Bozic, a dairy economist from the University of Minnesota. Dr. Bozic’s introductory presentation demonstrated how – at critical points in history – California producers dealt with real problems by crafting solutions that were designed to make things better for all producers while respecting the rights certain producers had in the status quo. His point was that successful solutions are forward looking, but the interests of all producers need to be considered. Dr. Bozic then showed a series of graphs that visually demonstrated how the ownership of quota in California has changed over the years. He pointed out that the numbers are so close that there is uncertainty about how a referendum to immediately terminate the QIP might end up. That uncertainty creates the opportunity, and maybe necessity, for all producers to work together to come up with a solution that serves the needs of everybody.
The meetings then went into the audience participation phase where everyone was divided up into small groups and provided index cards to write on. A series of four questions were asked and everyone was asked to first answer the question for himself on the index card followed by a discussion at each table. Dr. Bozic emphasized that there were no wrong ideas at this point, and new ideas were encouraged. He indicated that he would personally read every card, so even if a person was uncomfortable verbalizing thoughts to the group, what they wrote would also be considered in the process. The first question had to do with what people thought would be the impacts of a reform of the quota program. The second question focused on what principles should be used to evaluate potential solutions. The third question addressed specific ideas for reform and the final question was about what benefits to the industry might come about if we could solve the conflict over the quota issue. Between the four meetings there were about 300 participants, so Dr. Bozic will have lots of cards to read. There was very constructive dialogue, both in the interaction as a full group, but also around the tables in the small groups. The next public step in this process will be in September when Dr. Bozic will come back to California for another series of meetings with a list of potential solutions based on the input received this week. At those meetings, this list will be discussed and narrowed down, hopefully to a small number of options that can be further refined and analyzed for their ability to be implemented.
My thoughts: I was incredibly impressed and proud of our producer community. This is a very tough issue, but my observation is that there is a growing realization that it’s time to have this conversation and work on a way forward together. Fairness and equity were words that came up a lot. Of course, that means different things to different people, but I did not sense that the differences were unbridgeable. My second observation is that Dr. Bozic is the right person to help us. He is a very smart guy, but he is also a very genuine man and a good communicator. He speaks with a bit of an accent, reflecting his origin from the country of Croatia. We started the Tulare meeting with everyone standing for the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. In one of the most poignant experiences of my dairy career, Dr. Bozic told us that he had just recently completed his U.S. citizenship process and how significant it felt to be reciting the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time as an American citizen. We all broke out into applause. It was a special moment. And so, we move forward.
Geoff Vanden Heuvel
Director of Regulatory and Economic Affairs