In what’s being declared as a victory for the dairy industry, President Bush has signed the Milk Regulatory Equity Act into law, effectively closing a loophole that had allowed regulatory inequities between federal and state milk marketing orders in Arizona, California and Nevada. The bill, which passed the House late last month and the Senate in December, cements the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) April 1 order that producer-handlers in the Pacific Northwest and Arizona-Las Vegas marketing areas will only be exempt from Federal Milk Marketing Order pricing and pooling requirements if they produce, process and market less than 3 million pounds of fluid products per month. Several major processors and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) backed the change, arguing that some large bottling operations put regulated producers and processors at a competitive disadvantage. IDFA allied with producer and processor groups that supported the measure, including the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), Western United Dairymen and Dairy Farmers of America.
Meanwhile, IDFA and NMPF are standing on opposite sides of the issue of whether the USDA should use the Dairy Export Incentive Program (DEIP), which provides a bonus to exporters to encourage higher levels of U.S. dairy exports. USDA did not use DEIP last year and has not yet made export bonuses available this year. NMPF says timely use of the program is needed to shore up dairy prices and minimize government purchases under the dairy price support program. IDFA argues that DEIP isn’t necessary because current world prices are strong, instead urging more effort behind WTO talks to eliminate trade-distorting policies.
ConAgra Foods Inc., Omaha, Neb., continues to shed units in a reorganization strategy, with the latest announcement in March revealing plans to sell the company’s cheese and seafood businesses. ConAgra says the planned moves mark an ongoing reshuffling in the food processing sector as companies attempt to adjust to pressure on prices from retailers, higher input costs, and to changes in consumer demand.
Columbia, Md.-based MaggieMoo’s International is targeting Denver for a major expansion push, with more than 20 ice cream shops planned for that metro area over the next five years as part of its goal of 1,000 “Treateries” by 2010. The company has also announced a mutual licensing agreement to develop airport and travel plaza locations, and the addition of MaggieMoo’s to the HMSHost portfolio of world-class brands. The first site opened at Florida’s Fort Myers International Airport.
Hilmar, Calif.-based Hilmar Cheese Co. broke ground last month on a new cheese processing facility in Dalhart, Texas. The company says the new plant will process 5 million pounds of milk daily into American-style cheeses. It’s scheduled for completion during the fourth quarter of 2007. 
Prairie Farms Dairy Inc., Carlinville, Ill., has purchased Turner Dairy Holdings LLC, Covington, Tenn. Turner Dairies was one of the largest independent dairies in the Southeast and operated plants in Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas.
Jim Oberweis, chairman of North Aurora, Ill.-based Oberweis Dairy Inc., came in second in a five-way race for the Republican nomination for Illinois governor. Oberweis, whose family-owned company operates a chain of dairy stores throughout the upper Midwest and offers milk through home delivery and supermarket sales, gave the front-runner — the sitting state treasurer — a close race into the wee hours of the March primary election. Politically active Oberweis has previously sought the GOP nod for U.S. Senate in Illinois.