TUTTLE — If faced with either raising prices or "cheapening” his dairy products, Drew Braum said he vows to continue his high standard for quality. That could mean customers will pay a premium price for Braum’s premium ice cream or milk. Two dairy trade groups — the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Milk Producers Federation — have asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to eliminate the producer-handler exemption in the U.S. They argue that producer-handlers have an unfair advantage because they milk their own cows; other dairy farmers are paid using a minimum price set by the USDA. "All we’re asking is that Braum’s be on the same footing as other bottlers,” said Chris Galen, a spokesman for the National Milk Producers Federation, an organization that represents 30 co-ops comprised of about 40,000 farmers. Braum’s and six other dairies who have formed the American Independent Dairy Alliance oppose the proposal and are fighting to keep their producer-handler exemption, which has been in place since the 1930s. Each provides a niche product such as organic milk, home delivery in glass bottles or artisan ice cream. "It’s a restriction of the entrepreneurial spirit,” said Braum, whose grandparents started Braum’s more than 40 years ago.
About the companyBraum’s has 10,600 cows that are milked twice daily. The milk is processed and packaged on-site, then loaded on one of the company’s semitrailers and distributed to stores. "Everything we’re making today goes to stores tomorrow morning,” Braum said. "It offers the consumer a better product.” Braum’s also feeds its cattle fresh-cut barley and corn grown on 11,000 acres in Tuttle, to increase the milk’s omega-3 content. If the proposal passes, Braum said it could cost the company millions of dollars each year and the cost would have to be passed on to consumers. But he said he’ll continue doing business as usual. "I’m still going to milk my cows,” Braum said. "I’m not going to cheapen up my product.”