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Fearing a sharp drop in prices that farmers will receive for their milk in 1991, the Regional Cooperative Marketing Agency (RCMA), an 11-state dairy farmer pricing cooperative, will ask state Agriculture Commissioner Richard T. McGuire next year to set minimum prices, presumably above those reached by existing federal and state marketing formulas, to cushion the price drop.

Co-op delegates, who represent 22,000 dairy farmers, half of whom are New Yorkers, voted at their annual meeting to ask McGuire to invoke the Rogers-Allen Act, a seldom used law designed to protect dairy farmers from prices that are too low. If McGuire chooses to respond favorably to the petition, he would be required to hold public hearings.

Greg McAllister, the RCMA spokesman, said that an RCMA task force has been established to frame the petition and recommend price levels. He said that the petition would be presented to McGuire by about Jan. 1.

Between September 1987 and August 1989, premiums were imposed on prices that milk bottlers had to pay farmers, generating about $70 million above regular market prices in an effort to help farmers remain in business. The premium was dropped in August 1989 when milk prices rose dramatically and also because RCMA was never able to collect premiums from financially stressed area cheese makers.

RCMA's desire to have New York State undertake some price-fixing also derives from similar price-fixing already in place in Pennsylvania and some New England states, McAllister said.

Both President William G. Zuber and General Manager Carmen Ross stressed that a stable Northeast milk industry and the supply that it maintains are long-term benefits to consumers and manufacturers.

The approach to the state is part of a two-pronged RCMA effort to stabilize milk prices and provide a safety net for dairy farmers.

Negotiations with milk handlers to accept another RCMA premium based on a target price concept are continuing, but the handlers "have not exactly been jumping on that bandwagon," McAllister said.

The RCMA delegates re-elected Zuber, a Churchville dairy farmer who also is president of Upstate Milk Cooperatives, to another term as their president.

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