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CEO's Corner:

Dairy Will Seize Generational FMMO Opportunity

June 4, 2023

USDA has moved forward on our request by announcing an “action plan,” and we at NMPF are pleased that the formal process of modernizing Federal Milk Marketing Orders is now officially underway.  The department’s plan announced last Thursday moves us toward the national federal order hearing we’re seeking, giving dairy a generational chance to update this important program to better reflect today’s market conditions and dairy producer needs.

We’re gratified that USDA recognizes the comprehensive nature of our proposal and are looking forward to it being considered in full, because the whole of our plan adds up to more than the sum of its individual parts. That’s a testament to the careful work put into this effort over two years and more than 150 meetings. But it also means that the next steps will require the same level of dedication and preparation, if not even more.

Once USDA conducts some preliminary steps (providing opportunity for additional proposals; holding a pre-hearing workshop) and sends out its hearing notice – likely late July – the stage is set for the hearing, which could begin as early as August and take 6-8 weeks. Once all the testimony is considered, USDA would be on track to put forward a final plan for a producer vote in 2024. Assuming that’s successful, implementation would begin late next year.

That’s assuming everything goes smoothly, which, in this broad and varied industry, is always a big assumption. But as dairy producers have proven throughout this process, with unity and careful attention to each other’s needs, impressive things can be done.

To work through this next stage as smoothly as possible, we plan to stick with the formula for success that’s served us well since the beginning. The principles we’ve followed include:

  • An approach grounded in thorough research and deliberation. Our meticulous, consensus-driven efforts allowed us to craft a proposal that comprehensively addresses today’s milk-pricing needs. As we prepare for a USDA hearing, that same commitment to substantive research over mere posturing will be critical. Fortunately, we’ve been working with many of the industry’s top economists and analysts to guide our approach. Their work will be key in the hearings to addressing complex issues such as Class I differential pricing, the make allowance or the return to the “higher-of.”
  • A devotion to consensus. We’ve focused on measures that unite the nation’s producers, and we will continue to advocate for solutions tailored to broad benefit rather than narrow, specialized self-interests. When disagreements have arisen, we’ve invariably worked toward, and achieved, consensus among producers. During our many meetings, if a proposal couldn’t attract a strong majority of support, we dropped it and moved on, always making sure that our members were lined up behind anything that moved forward. While this meant no one likely got exactly what they wanted, in the long run our proposal is stronger because it reflects the collective consensus of dairy producers serving markets nationwide.
  • An understanding that failure – or a focus on one single aspect of the program— is not an option. The need to comprehensively update a system built for the dairy industry of 23 years ago has always been obvious. Now that we’re moving toward a hearing, giving anything less than maximum attention and support is not an option either; nor is arriving at a final decision that producers won’t approve, a case we will make clearly and cogently in the hearing process. At this point the need for program modernization isn’t only established: a comprehensive approach to meeting it has been unanimously adopted by representatives of two-thirds of the nation’s milk supply and the added support of numerous other state, regional and national organizations with dairy producer members. This effort can’t, and won’t, be thrown into reverse. It needs to be brought to a successful conclusion, with the same spirit of consensus that brought us here.

With these principles in mind, we are about to embark on the next phase. This has been a heavy lift, and it’s far from complete. But we’re excited for the formal hearing process to begin. Deep thanks and appreciation to everyone who has contributed to and supported this journey so far. Additional opportunities to advance this effort and successfully see it through will be plentiful in the months ahead.


Jim Mulhern

President & CEO, NMPF