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New military procurement threatening local dairies' direct sales to base is 'dumb,' senator says

Patrons browse the frozen foods section of the commissary Nov. 5 at Fort Myer portion of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall on Nov. 5, 2015.

NELL KING/JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL

By ABRAHAM KENMORE | Watertown Daily Times, N.Y. | Published: December 15, 2018

EAST SYRACUSE (Tribune News Service) — Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., says he thinks the new proposed procurement process for milk on military bases is dumb.

Standing in front of the Byrne Dairy Ultra Dairy facility on Friday, Sen. Schumer said the new proposal from the Defense Commissary Agency to use centralized warehouses in Virginia or Maryland for goods instead of selling direct from dairies to military facilities is less efficient and threatens local, mid-sized dairies.

"Warehouse models may make sense for nonperishable goods, it makes no sense for milk," Sen. Schumer said. "In the name of efficiency, they are being inefficient."

Currently, Byrne Dairy sells milk to the military facilities in New York state, including Fort Drum, West Point and others.

"The government wants to constantly look at cost," said Carl Byrne, CEO of Byrne Dairy. " (But) to bring milk from central New York, take it down to Virginia and take it back up to Watertown doesn't make any sense."

Mr. Byrne told the Times his company sells about 180,000 gallons of milk to Fort Drum a year, which is drawn from the 268 Central New York dairy farms that sell to Byrne.

"Farms go as far north as Oswego," Mr. Byrne said

Under the current system, Byrne and other dairies bid to distribute to a particular military installation, rather than a centralized warehouse for the entire Northeast. Sen. Schumer said the proposal was designed to be more efficient, but he never thought the military would recommend it for milk.

"It would be a real milk dud," Sen. Schumer said, pausing to call out his speechwriter for the bad joke. "I think when I present to the top staff of the military they'll see how dumb it is."

Asked if other lawmakers were joining his call to change the procurement policy, Sen. Schumer said "there should be, but I don't know."

Sen. Schumer said the proposal was in the works for several months, but he did not expect milk to be included in the new procurement guidelines.

"They want to do it for cauliflower, I guess that's OK," he said. "Do we have cauliflower in New York? They should do it for oranges."

Farmer Mike McMahon of E-Z Acres in Homer said he sells the milk from his 1,000 cows to Byrne Dairy.

"I'm glad the senator is on it, he's always looking out for things like that," Mr. McMahon said.

The biggest challenge to the industry, however, Mr. McMahon said, was not procurement or even the recently passed farm bill, but trade deals that make it difficult to export milk, especially to Mexico.

"2014 was the best year ever for dairy, and that was directly related to export," he said.

Sen. Schumer also weighed in on the ongoing debate over the Essential Air Service provider at Massena and Ogdensburg airports.

"I know there's a fight between Ogdensburg and Massena," Sen. Schumer said. "They've got to come to an agreement, and I'll help them, but it's not for me to pick one over the other. They've got to come to an agreement and then I'll help them."

Massena decided to back Boutique Air for their airport over the recommendation by the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority, the Ogdensburg City Council and others supporting SkyWest Airline. SkyWest is proposing daily flights of 50-passenger jets from both Massena and Ogdensburg, but the proposal is contingent on servicing both airports. The final determinations will be made by the U.S. Department of Transportation, with input from federal lawmakers.

The visit also marked the final county in Sen. Schumer's yearly visit to all 62 counties in the state, marking 20 years of these visits.

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