Alan Bjerga, NMPF: Hello, and welcome to the Dairy Defined Podcast. Election years can be quieter years on Capitol Hill. But outside events are ensuring that not the case in 2022. From setting domestic spending, to fighting inflation and funding a war effort, Washington this spring is more than a place to gaze at cherry blossoms. Updating us is NMPF senior vice president for government relations, Paul Bleiberg. Good having you here, Paul.
Paul Bleiberg, NMPF: Thanks for having me on.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: Congress just passed a pretty substantial funding bill, Paul. Can you recap the key dairy items that were in and not in the legislation?
Paul Bleiberg, NMPF: There were several key items that we were glad to see in the bill. The first one I’ll touch on relates to our larger climate and sustainability effort, to become greenhouse gas neutral or better by 2050, as part of our net zero initiative to fulfill our 2050 environmental stewardship goals. This item relates to feed additive approvals. One thing we’ve been working on for a while at National Milk, along with other ag organizations is to urge the food and drug administration to reclassify how they approve animal feed additives that can reduce enteric emissions from livestock.
Enteric commissions can represent as much as 30% of the daily farmer’s greenhouse gas profile footprint overall. So, we were able to get new funding, as well as language in this recent bill to provided direction to FDA to look at how they might classify these animal feed additives as foods rather than drugs, to expedite their approval, get them to market more quickly, make it easier for dairy farmers to reap the benefits, and put us on a more level playing field with our international competitors, that have actually been using these additives more expeditiously in recent years. So, that was one new item in the bill that we were very excited about.
In addition to that item, the bill did continue funding for a number of important priorities we’ve worked on in recent years. A couple of programs that the 2018 Farm Bill authorized and created where funding in the bill, including the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network, to help deal with stress issues in rural America, as well as the dairy business innovation initiatives. And this is a multi prong program that funds a few different projects around the country in the dairy industry to help with research development innovation, and things like that that was created by Senator Baldwin in the 2018 Farm Bill. So, both of those items in the bill were very positive as well.
The bill did not include a COVID package. There were discussions in the final days about including some additional money for COVID, and that package might’ve included an extension of some of the school meal waivers that would make it easier for folks to get free meals over the course of the next school year. Which has been very helpful during the pandemic. But there ended up being disagreement over whether to include that policy, as well as whether to offset that funding overall. So, the COVID portion of the bill was ultimately removed. But, there may yet be discussions about providing that.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: When we last spoke to you in October, Paul, a big part of our talk then was the Build Back Better Act. That hasn’t happened. But there is a dairy interest in that plan, specifically the climate smart ag provisions that passed the house last fall. What’s the status of that legislation and those provisions?
Paul Bleiberg, NMPF: You’re absolutely right that the Built Back Better Act hasn’t passed at this point. It did pass in the house in the fall, and has been unable to get the needed votes to move forward in the Senate. So, it was kind of put on the sideline for the last few weeks while Congress worked on the government funding bill, and obviously the crisis in Ukraine has consumed their attention as well. Now, there may be a renewed attempt to move either that legislation, or a different version of it. It’s possible that the bill will look somewhat different.
However, should a reconciliation bill move forward, I do think one of the priority areas is still going to be climate. And that will hopefully include climate smart ag. We work very closely with the Senate ag committee, with chairwoman Debbie Stabenow in particular, on the precisions dealing with climate smart ag, increasing funding for conservation programs, with emphasis on those practices that can yield meaningful environmental benefits, on some language dealing with enteric admissions.
And this is really important to fulfilling those 2050 stewardship goals I spoke about a minute ago. So, we’re very hopeful that that funding and work would remain in whatever package might move forward. It is possible that there will be an agreement this spring. But it’s unclear. Obviously there are a lot of other elements of that bill. There’s controversy in different ways are around that. So, we don’t know what will happen. But we have engaged very aggressively on the climate front, because we do believe that that’s such a critical component to move forward, given the goals that we have, and the demands in the marketplace.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: One conversation getting just underway, but it’s always a favorite in ag country is that 2023 Farm Bill. It’s due in a little over 18 months. What are some early indications on what that might look like, and what will NMPF’s priorities be?
Paul Bleiberg, NMPF: The House and Senate ag committees are kicking off that process now. It usually kicks it off a bit in advance of when the reauthorization is actually due. Because first, the committees need to take a look at what’s working and not working well in current foreign policy. And sometimes that involves hearings here in DC, but also out in the countryside doing field hearings. And then, the second step of that process is working with stakeholders to figure out, “Okay, what improvements do you need to be made? What are the different areas?” Whether it’s creating new policy, modifying existing policy, getting rid of outdated policy, or some combination of the three, that’s really the sausage making process that the House and Senate ag committees go through every five years of working on the Farm Bill.
And so, the House ag committee has started having hearings, the Senate ag committee, I know they’re talking about their process as well. And the Senate ag committee traditionally begins their process with field hearings in the home states of the chair and the ranking member. So, we may see that play out. The house ag committee tends to have a number of different hearings at the subcommittee and full committee level, and we’ve seen some of that play out so far.
As per our priorities, in the last farm bill, we’re spent an awful lot of time reforming the dairy safety net, which is now the dairy caps margin coverage program. And also improving the crop insurance side options available to bridge illusions, such as dairy revenue production, and LGN and things like that. Now, there may always be room for tinkering in those programs in the next farm bill.
There’s always an opportunity to make tweaks and things like that. But I think a lot of the economic interest right now is around the milk pricing area. You’re seeing this not just within National Milk, but conversations more broadly. The CO V-19 pandemic didn’t necessarily create problems in milk pricing. But it put a spotlight on some issues and some deficiencies that need to be looked at.
So here at National Milk, our economic policy committee has been doing a deep dive into different federal milk marketing water issues to see what might need to be improved. Others in agriculture are doing the same thing. So, that may culminate in a hearing process ultimately at the Department of Agriculture. But obviously given the time around the farm bill, it’s always possible that these two areas will interact.
And then as a third item, I would just reiterate what I said a minute ago on sustainability, the conservation title is a really important part of the farm bill, and we will be looking to work with the committees on different ways that we can continue to evolve those programs toward meeting dairy’s needs.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: Ag labor reform. It’s important, but it always seems to be a victim of larger political forces. The House passed the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act for a second time almost a year ago. Since then, we’ve been hopeful for progress on an improved bill in the Senate. Should we remain hopeful?
Paul Bleiberg, NMPF: We absolutely should remain hopeful. And it’s what we have to do. We’ve been continuing, and the dairy industry, and working with others in ag, to keep the message alive on Capitol Hill, in particular in the Senate on this topic. Senator Mike Crapo from Idaho on the Republic side, Senator Michael Bennet from Colorado on the Democrat side have really been leading the negotiations there for some time. And we know that they and their staffs are continuing conversations. We’re very [inaudible 00:07:22] that that’s the case. And we’re going to continue doing everything we can to see a solution this year.
Because the momentum you mentioned from the house passing the Farm Workforce Modernization Act a second time on a bipartisan basis gives us the opportunity to take that bill, work in the Senate, make some improvements, and hopefully get a bill that can get signed into law.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: We started this conversation, Paul, by talking about the fiscal year ’22 funding bill. The ink is barely dry. But what are we looking at for next year?
Paul Bleiberg, NMPF: Well, that’s a good question. Congress will start, I think in the coming weeks and months, working on the fiscal year 2023 appropriations process. And that’ll begin with the different agencies talking to the appropriations committees about what they are anticipated needs are. I think for us, we’ll want to build on the successes in FY ’22, certainly regarding feed additives, to try to obtain yet additional money beyond the additional $1 that was included.
But, we’re also going to be focusing on what we can do to add funding to USDA’s pandemic market volatility assistance program. To recap, this is the program USDA created last summer to partly reimburse farmers for some of the unusual price losses they suffered in 2020 during the height of the pandemic. And I touched on this a little bit in reference to the spotlight that put on milk pricing issues more broadly.
And while we really appreciated the work and the creativity USDA exhibited coming up with the program, the 5 million pound [inaudible 00:08:37] in the program meant that farmers in many parts of the country would only get reimbursed on really a small, small, small share of what they lost. And these losses really hit people on all of their milk buying. So, we’re going to be working with Congress to see if we can’t plus up that program, somewhat with a particular eye toward can we help back fill for some of those producers who were hit by the cap, and reimburse a bit more accurately.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: Anything else?
Paul Bleiberg, NMPF: No. I think it’s going to be a busy year. Like you said at the start, election years can sometimes be quiet in a lot of ways. But there’s still a lot of sausage making that goes on. I’ve used that term twice now. We are hopeful that we’ll see some progress on supply chain legislation, in particular the Ocean Shipping Reform Act that our trade team has worked really hard on to move forward in a variety of different contexts. And then that farm bill process is just going to get more and more significant as the date gets closer.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: We’ve been speaking with Paul Bleiberg. He is the senior vice president for government relations at the National Milk Producers Federation. Paul, thank you for your time.
Paul Bleiberg, NMPF: Thank you for having me on.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: And that’s it for today’s podcast. For more on NMPF’s policy priorities, visit NMPF.org. And for more of the Dairy Defined Podcast, you can find and subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Amazon Music, under the podcast name, Dairy Defined. See you next time.