[caption id="attachment_7625" align="alignright" width="300"] Montana dairy farmers depend on Montana Department of Livestock inspections to keep their farms and processing facilities in business. Their fees must cover the cost of inspection and are currently under review.[/caption]

The Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) is considering a change in the fee structure for dairy farms and processors. The Department is holding a town hall meeting to discuss the proposed fee restructuring from 10 am until noon, Thursday, Dec. 17 at the Holiday Inn in Bozeman.

Current fees are not reflective of the actual costs of inspecting facilities and testing milk. It’s critical to have public input from the dairy industry to ensure the final rule generates sufficient revenue and addresses concerns and needs from dairy farmers, processors, and others.

Fee structure supports dairy inspections
It’s important for the DOL to come to a resolution on the fee structure for dairies in Montana. The DOL Milk & Egg Bureau is experiencing financial shortfalls because of an increase in time and resources used on inspecting facilities and testing milk. One suggestion has been to seek more General Fund money from the State to cover these costs because the testing is also a public health issue. Inspection and testing is no doubt of concern to public health, but it’s not as simple as asking the Governor for more money from the General Fund.

The DOL, like all divisions of state government, set their budget once every two years during a legislative session. DOL has the ability to set fee costs through administrative rule making, but they cannot receive more General Fund money until the 2017 Legislative Session. In the meantime, they also can’t stop inspecting dairy farms and processing facilities. So, the challenge becomes finding an alternative to keep the program funded in the meantime.

Share your ideas for sustainable dairy fees
There are several avenues for dairy farmers, processors, or interested individuals to provide their thoughtful, constructive ideas for resolving the situation.The first is Thursday, December 17. DOL will hold a town hall meeting from 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. at the Holiday Inn in Bozeman.

The official public hearing is slated for Thursday, January 14 at the Scott Hart Building in Helena. You may also submit comments by emailing mdolcomments@mt.gov.

A copy of the proposed rule may be found here:  http://www.mtrules.org/gateway/ShowNoticeFile.asp?TID=6799

--Chelcie Cargill, Director of State Affairs