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2021 Promises Better Days Ahead, Thanks to the Successes of 2020

January 6, 2021

A new year brings new hope, and there are plenty of reasons for hope in dairy as 2021 begins.

The arrival of COVID-19 vaccines promises an eventual return to more-normal patterns of life — and less volatility in markets — at some point this year.

A new Congress and administration will provide opportunities to address important concerns – and dairy, with its proud tradition of bipartisanship, is uniquely positioned to seize those opportunities even in a divided government.

And dairy’s 2020 track record of accomplishment – led by the advocacy of the cooperative community from the beginning of the coronavirus crisis last March to the latest federal assistance package signed into law in late December – provides a formidable foundation to build from as we stay true to our mission of serving our members during the challenging, though in the end brighter, year ahead.

About those accomplishments. There hasn’t been much time to pause and reflect on how profoundly dairy rose to the occasion in 2020 — not in a 24/7, 365-day-a-year industry that never stops producing products and serving consumers. This crisis has evolved too quickly, and the needs have been too ever-changing and acute, for anyone to truly rest. But the gains that our members, and everyone in dairy, have made through tireless advocacy have been substantial. The COVID stimulus bill approved in December alone included:

  • $400 million for a new NMPF-backed Dairy Donation Program open to all producers to help dairy stakeholders and non-profits work together to provide dairy products to food-insecure households and minimize food waste.
  • Provisions enabling USDA to provide additional compensation to producers who earlier were unable to receive the full support they needed under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which had payment limitations that didn’t fully address the extent of the damages incurred on many dairy farms.
  • Supplemental Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) payments for farms whose DMC production history has increased since 2014, up to 5 million pounds. The provision is a boon for smaller operations and increases farm bill baseline spending for all dairy farmers through 2023, the life of the current law.
  • Improvements that will make the Paycheck Protection Program work better for sole proprietor, independent contractor, and self-employed dairy farmers by allowing them to use their 2019 gross income to determine their PPP loan amounts.

And of course, dairy farmers will be eligible for support in the $11 billion agricultural disaster assistance package, of which at least $1.5 billion is already being targeted to additional product purchases for distribution to food insecure individuals, included in the legislation Congress has passed.

It’s important to note that the stimulus bill was only the most recent in a string of policy successes that together have generated well over $5 billion in assistance to dairy producers and helped stabilize markets. It’s also important to remember that each success builds upon earlier ones.

For example, the progress on payment limits built on the earlier victory of getting dairy farmers more equitable treatment in payments made under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program than they had received in earlier programs, like the trade-mitigation payments. Now, CFAP itself has been improved upon. And the supplemental DMC payments will set the stage to remedy a niggling flaw in the DMC’s coverage, that of an out-of-date production history that does not reflect farmers’ current situations. But the DMC was itself a major improvement on the old Margin Protection Program. And now participation in DMC will be even more fruitful for many producers.

Such gains only come from credibility, persistence, tireless effort and the patient building of relationships with key officials on Capitol Hill and in the administration. It’s the kind of work NMPF has prided itself on, day-in and day-out, throughout its existence – and it’s the dedication that shines through during times of critical need, like what we’ve seen in these past few months.

The year’s successes extend beyond legislation as well. Gains in trade policy helped enable a year of progress for U.S. exports, which data indicates may end up being a record year for the total volume of milk solids exported. Our FARM Program continues to lead in industry best practices. Our successful advocacy in regulatory issues has aided our farmers in the eternal struggle against red tape. And we’ve effectively communicated dairy’s story, to farmers and to the world, letting everyone know that this sector is essential, and resilient, and well-positioned to thrive.

The lessons learned in 2020 both prepare us, and brace us, for the days ahead. With normal times not yet here, 2021 certainly won’t be easy. The economy will remain touch-and-go. Partisanship may intensify. Longstanding issues like agricultural labor will remain difficult to resolve, and rising issues such as climate change will pose additional challenges.

But we’re energized by the challenge of serving our members even more effectively. We know we can do it, because we’ve seen the dairy community rise to meet its challenges throughout this past year. And together, we will create better days to come.