What Is the MARS Database? | Dairy News

No, I haven’t lost it. The board and staff have successfully navigated to a brand new MARS.

What is MARS? It is not the red planet but rather the sophisticated database that we use to house every piece of data related to regulated fluid milk products: purchases from individual farmers and payments to them, products sold at wholesale price and amounts of milk components typically measured in the raw milk. These include things such as butterfat and protein content.

The database houses all the contact and other information we need to work with our nearly 2,000 licensees. More importantly, it allows us to calculate license fees based on volumes sold, keep track of which licenses require bonds, and perform audits each month ensuring that each Pennsylvania dairy farmer is paid accurately and on time for milk sold.

The original MARS database was created around 1999. It functioned well for the times and our needs, but there were still a lot of tasks related to our licensing, bonding and auditing that had to be done using paper or desktop applications such as Microsoft Word or Excel.

We had to require that many licensees come on site for our auditors to secure documentation of milk purchases and sales or payments to farmers, and this required that our audit staff be much larger than it is today.

Those who worked for the board at the time tell me that there were about 35 people on staff.

By the time I came to the board in 2018, more of our client base used the internet for their operations, and we were able to accept spreadsheets that summarized all of the licensee operations we require under the law as well as the scanned and emailed documentation to support the spreadsheet data.

The old MARS was also used to keep records such as names of contact persons, telephone numbers and other important information about the companies with which we work.

An important fact I have mentioned before is that the board receives no tax dollars to fund its required operations. All the money used to perform our duties comes from dealer license fees (most of which are based on fluid milk sales); subdealer, hauler and weigher/sampler license fees; examination fees; and occasional consent orders due to violations of a section of the law.

Why does this matter? The largest categories of fees we collect are the dealers’ and cooperatives’ license fees which are, as noted above, primarily based on volume sales.

As the volume of regulated milk products’ sales reduces, the amount of license fees collected by the board also reduces.

Over the past 20-plus years, fluid milk sales have declined; This reduction in our revenue resulted in a need to reduce our largest expense, personnel and related, to compensate. Much of this compensation came from not replacing auditors as they retired.

Our staff now consists of 13 people, but we are currently in the process of interviewing for an additional auditor and a staff attorney. I doubt I have to tell you that having to complete many of our tasks using paper, scanning and other less technical means has been difficult at times.

Well, I think I have made a clear case for a more technologically savvy database. Thus, the efforts beginning in 2019 to develop the new MARS, which came online Oct. 5.

The new MARS has many features that will allow us to work within the constraints of a reduced staff. New companies or individuals applying for one of our licenses can now complete that process online, something that previously required filling out a paper application.

More importantly, new MARS has an online payment system where applicants can pay initial fees by telecheck or a debit/credit card. Yearly license renewals and payments will also be available online.

New MARS has the capability to upload attachments and enter comments or explanations to elaborate on responses to certain items in the applications and renewals.

For those of our clientele that do not have internet access, we are still providing paper-based applications and payment services.

As for the auditing portion of our required duties, audited licensees will now be able to complete their monthly reports online as opposed to filling out a spreadsheet and sending it to us via email.

We will still offer on-site pickup of monthly report paperwork and documentation to a few of our licensees as needed. With the exception of the few licensees lacking internet, our staff can now complete auditing of monthly reports online.

The process to create and implement this new Oracle database has been lengthy. There have been many bumps along the way, but thanks to our dedicated staff and contracted developers, we have made it to this point.

I owe a special thanks to Steven Zalman from our staff who has put in countless hours to facilitate the process.

Above all, staff thank the board for providing the financial resources to make this happen.

PMMB is always available to respond to questions and concerns. I can be reached at 717-210-8244 or by email at chardbarge@pa.gov.

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