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In federal lawsuit, $13,000 refund could await dairy farmers

Photo by Johnny Jackson 
Cows like these, in this McDonough neighborhood, still roam pastures that cover Henry County.

Photo by Johnny Jackson Cows like these, in this McDonough neighborhood, still roam pastures that cover Henry County.

Dairy farms once covered the landscape in Georgia, and many of them were in the Southern Crescent area that includes Henry and Clayton counties. Decades ago, there was such a strong presence of productive farms in Henry County, it was called the “Breadbasket of the Confederacy,” according to local historian Gene Morris.

“There are no dairy farmers now,” according to Henry County’s extension agent, Frank Hancock.

Efforts are underway nationwide to alert dairy farmers in Appalachian and Southeast regions, of their eligibility to share in a $145 million settlement reached in a class-action lawsuit.

The class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Greenville, Tenn., accused dairy processors of price fixing and underpayments to dairy farmers in Georgia, and the 11 other states that comprise the Southeast.

The litigation involves the dairy farming industry in Federal Milk Marketing Orders 5 (Appalachian Order) and 7 (Southeast Order), which produced raw Grade A milk from Jan. 1, 2001, to the present, according to court filings.

Those who are dairy farmers, or were farming as far back as 2001, have until May 1 to file a claim with the U.S. District Court in Greenville, Tenn. They have a chance to receive an estimated $13,000 each, according to Mark Elis of the Settlement Recovery Group, LLC. His company has contacted news publications, he said, to alert dairy farmers of their eligibility.

“We want to help them get their settlement,” said Elis.

“SRG is made up of specialists in law, finance, technology and research. We save farmers the time and expense of filing, tracking and claiming their refunds,” said Elis. 

There are 770 dairy farmers still producing milk in Georgia, located in the areas of east and northeast Georgia, according to state agricultural officials.

“The closest one [to Henry and Clayton] is in Spalding County,” said D.C. Mullis, County Executive Director of the Farm Service Agency, which is based in McDonough. His office is responsible for farm matters in Henry, Clayton, Fayette, Spalding, and Butts counties. He laments the loss of dairy farms, but is happy for those who might now receive some compensation.

News of the court settlement is bittersweet for some former dairy farmers.

“It would have been nice to have that when we were still in business,” said Hans Broder Jr., a former banker, whose father, now 92, sold the family’s dairy farm in 1987 in the face of high operating costs and small profits.

For additional claims information, call (800) 874-2297, or visit http://southeastdairyclass.com/, click “Notice of Settlement of Class Action Claims,” and scroll to page 7 of that document.