BOSTON — Massachusetts took a step closer to withdrawing from the Northeast Dairy Compact on Wednesday, when the Senate rejected a call to stay in the compact, which subsidizes milk prices to protect dairy farmers.
The Senate budget, being debated this week, calls for the state to withdraw from the compact, and it sets aside $3 million each year to help Massachusetts dairy farmers.
On Wednesday, the Senate voted 22-17 to maintain those provisions.
“Make no mistake — if we pull out, this compact will collapse,” said state Sen. Stephen M. Brewer, D-Barre, who spoke in favor of the compact.
The Northeast Dairy Compact, which includes the six New England states, sets minimum prices that farmers receive and provides subsidies in an effort to keep farmers afloat.
Senate critics said it forces Bay State residents to subsidize out-of-state farmers and pay more for milk than they should.
“My constituents didn’t send me here to do what’s best for Vermont or Connecticut or New Hampshire,” said state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, D-Boston.
The dairy compact debate in Massachusetts is being closely watched around the region because nearly half of New England’s milk consumers are in Massachusetts, according to compact officials.
Those who spoke in favor of the compact on Wednesday said it will preserve open spaces and help protect New England’s dairy farmers from going out of business.
“This compact is nothing more than a minimum wage bill for farmers,” said Brewer, who grew up on a dairy farm. “We are fighting for a way of life for farmers.”
The Senate vote occurred one day after compact officials announced that about 4,000 New England dairy farmers voted in favor of a limit on milk production. That plan, which was approved by a 9-1 margin, will give farmers a slightly higher price for their milk when they agree to raise production no more than 1 percent from year to year.
The Senate’s proposal to withdraw from the dairy compact was not included in the House version of the budget. It must be approved by a conference committee made up of members from both houses before it is sent to the governor for his signature.