Thank the Government for Protecting You From Low Milk Prices

Cases of milk wait to be loaded onto a truck at Hugo's in Grand Forks on Wednesday. (Photo by John Hageman)

A reader recently sent me a picture of this sign posted on the glass door of a refrigerated display at a convenience store in Bismarck. It warns customers that a coupon for milk won’t be honored because it lowered the price below what state regulations allow.

That’s right. The state government is literally protecting you from low milk prices:

The instrument of this regulation is the North Dakota Milk Marketing Board. Since the 1960’s this entity has been setting minimum prices for milk and other dairy products. It’s why a gallon of milk consistently costs more in North Dakotan than it does in, say, Minnesota.

The idea behind this price fixing is to help protect North Dakota’s dairy industry. In fact, just last year the North Dakota Farmer’s Union was calling for the state to boost milk prices higher. But has decades of this policy actually helped dairy farmers in our state?

There seems to be no evidence of it. From 2000 to 2015 our state saw the number of dairy farms operating in the state drop from 350 to 91.

Proponents of these price controls insist that they’re necessary to keep dairy farms operating. The same argument is made in favor of the corporate farming ban, which disallows corporate ownership of farm land except among blood relatives, but there too we’ve seen a decline in farms despite the policy.

We had a debate last year over a referendum for a law passed to create some exemptions from the corporate farming law, including for dairy farms. The Farmer’s Union and other groups won that argument. Over 75 percent of voters cast their ballots to repeal the exemptions.

Voters, clearly, buy into the idea that these policies work despite a total lack of evidence that they do.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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