Legislation to help protect dairy farmers signed

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:46

    WANTAGE-Like most of New Jersey's remaining 123 dairy farmers, the recent bankruptcy of Parmalat, an Italian business conglomerate, provided Wantage farmer Jeff Vander Groef and his family with a glimpse into a potential financial abyss. Parmalat USA, the North American subsidiary, consumes 45 percent of the state's milk production, according to N.J. Secretary of Agriculture Charlie Kuperus. The best-known of Parmalat's local brands is Farmland Dairy. While payments continued to farmers thoughout the unfolding of the Enron-like crisis in Italy, there were times when it appeared that a default might occur, Kuperus noted. "We worked very closely with Parmalat USA," Kuperus said. "North American operations are an independent entity. It was only through a constant dialog that allowed our farmers to be paid." Kuperus said he appreciated the efforts of Parmalat USA to work with the state and farmers to keep payments coming to dairy farmers. Parmalat USA has filed for bankruptcy protection under chapter 11, and has announced plans to reorganize. One of the main concerns raised during the unfolding situation was an outdated bond required to be posted by producers like Parmalat, to cover payments in the event of a default. The $100,000 bond was established in 1917, and had not been updated since a revision in 1972. Last week, Kuperus and Sen. Robert E. Littell, along with other state and local officials, joined Vander Groef and local dairy farmers at Vander Groef's Lewisburg Road farm to announce new legislation which is expected to provide greater security for New Jersey's dairy farmers. Vander Groef said he and other dairy farmers appreciated the state's effort to protect farmers. "This should give us a higher level of security," Vander Groef said. The legislation, which was recently