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Dairy ‘Cliffhangers’ Need Resolution

August 3, 2021

Cliffhangers are great in movies, but they’re frustrating in public policy. Congress is entering its traditional August recess with a big not-yet-done list on topics ranging from infrastructure to immigration. For the sake of dairy farmers, we’d like to see faster movement.

But hope and hard work are dairy strengths, and we at NMPF continue our efforts to make sure that at least some of these cliffhangers resolve quickly and positively. Each gain, big and small, improves livelihoods. Here are a few cliffhangers awaiting resolution as lawmakers leave Washington and head to their districts to reconnect at county fairs and town halls. (Feel free to tell them NMPF says hello.)

  • USDA’s Dairy Donation Program. This initiative provides compensation for dairy-product donations, with support retroactive to last Dec. 27. The $400 million program, part of a COVID relief package Congress approved that month, is largely ready to go, thanks to USDA’s diligence, but it’s awaiting signoff from the White House Office of Management and Budget. Final details are expected to be worked out soon, encouraging dairy community efforts to aid needy families through food banks and other distributors.
  • Direct Producer Support. USDA has indicated plans to offer details within the next few weeks on other COVID-related initiatives to provide direct relief to dairy producers. In response to NMPF entreaties, USDA is seeking to reimburse dairy producers for uncompensated losses they’ve suffered when traditional milk price relationships were turned upside down last year. Meanwhile, the Supplemental DMC program would allow producers whose annual production was below 5 million pounds in 2014, but has modestly increased, to receive corresponding payments. This not only aids small producers; it increases the amount of money available to dairy in the next farm bill. Finally, we’re seeking to correct a flaw in last year’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program to help producers who experienced serious losses due to the pandemic but saw their assistance hindered by CFAP payment caps. NMPF has spearheaded efforts to remedy this imbalance with USDA.
  • Programs that advance dairy’s Net Zero Initiative goals. As NMPF’s Senior Vice President for Government Affairs, Paul Bleiberg, noted in a recent NMPF podcast, Congress is making progress in several areas that will help dairy reach its ambitious goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The Growing Climate Solutions Act, which passed the U.S. Senate by a 92-8 vote in June, encourages better-functioning environmental markets, which will help farmers achieve the industry’s net zero goal. Meanwhile, an investment tax-credit bill for greenhouse-gas-reducing technologies is making headway on Capitol Hill, and Congress is considering enhancing conservation policy to encourage climate-friendly agricultural practices and markets that compensate farmers for being stewardship leaders.
  • Finally, addressing dairy’s ag-labor crisis. Perpetually among the heaviest lifts in Congress, agricultural labor reform has at least some momentum this year via the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives in March. Senate discussions remain behind-the-scenes, but we have positioned dairy prominently in this debate via the many opportunities we’ve had to spotlight dairy’s labor needs, ranging from a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on agricultural labor issues and public events with key federal officials to the inclusion of language expanding the current H-2A visa program to accommodate dairy in a recent appropriations bill. These are the types of smaller actions that lead to larger ones, and we will continue this drumbeat to prod Congress to get the job done.

This list, of course, isn’t comprehensive. Dairy’s activities in Washington range widely, from legislation on school milk and plant-based product labeling to forceful advocacy on trade. And other issues, especially those related to milk pricing, are sure to heat up in the months ahead, leaving no shortage of suspense in Washington.

But progress does occur, and we’re looking forward to seeing more progress soon. Washington may be taking a “break,” but we aren’t. And we look forward to helping to resolve at least a few “cliffhangers” in the weeks and months to come.