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CEO's Corner:

House Farm Bill a Win for Dairy

June 3, 2024

The long-awaited Farm Bill debate has finally begun. As someone who has played a role in drafting one Farm Bill as a Senate Agriculture Committee staffer and stood on the sidelines here in Washington for five other Farm Bill debates, I’ve learned that the roads to success in passing farm bills through both houses of Congress can be long and challenging. Still, the path is always worthwhile: It’s critical to have a strong and stable farm policy that supports our industry and helps us overcome the challenges we face.

That’s why I am grateful to the House Agriculture Committee, under the leadership of Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-PA, for passing a 2024 Farm Bill that includes critical dairy priorities that will help us grow and thrive. As the first major step in the legislative process of approving a new law, it’s one that’s positive for dairy and should set a productive tone for developments moving forward.

The plan approved by the House Agriculture Committee on May 23 reflects much of the input we have received from our members. NMPF has worked closely with lawmakers from both parties to ensure the bill addresses the needs and concerns of dairy producers of all sizes, in all regions.

Some of the key provisions of the House Farm Bill that would benefit dairy are:

  • Extending the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program through 2029, with updated production histories and a 25% premium discount for locking five years of coverage. The DMC program, created at our urging in the 2018 Farm Bill, has been a lifeline for many dairy farmers who have faced low milk prices and high feed costs. By extending the program with this update, the House plan provides more certainty for dairy farmers who want to manage their risk and protect their income.

  • Restoring the “higher of” Class I mover to reinstate orderly milk marketing, as well as requiring plant cost studies every two years to provide better data to inform future make allowance conversations. These are two key components of NMPF’s Federal Milk Marketing Order modernization proposal. The Class I mover is the formula that determines the minimum price that processors pay for fluid milk. After significant producer losses after a change to the formula in 2019, the House Farm Bill would restore the previous formula and ensure that dairy farmers receive a fair price for their milk. The House plan would also require the USDA to conduct regular studies on the costs of processing milk, which are used to inform the make allowances that affect the prices paid to dairy farmers. These studies would provide more transparency and accuracy in the pricing system and allow for adjustments based on changing market conditions.

  • Supporting the bipartisan, House-passed Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act to reverse the underconsumption of nutritious milk in our schools. The Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act allows schools to offer 2% and whole milk as part of the school lunch and breakfast programs, giving students more choices and encouraging them to drink more milk.

  • Boosting funds for critical dairy trade promotion programs and protecting the use of common food names worldwide. The bill would increase the funding for the Foreign Market Development program and the Market Access Program, which help U.S. dairy exporters develop and maintain overseas markets. The plan would also support the efforts of the U.S. government and the dairy industry to defend the use of common cheese names, such as parmesan and feta, against the European Union’s attempts to restrict them through geographical indications.

  • Supporting voluntary, producer-led conservation programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and improve the certification of Third-Party Service Providers with technical expertise related to conservation planning to better assist producers participating in National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) programs. The committee-passed bill recognizes the environmental stewardship of dairy farmers and provides them with more resources and assistance to implement conservation practices on their farms. The House Farm Bill would also maintain the EQIP 50% livestock set-aside and allow states to offer larger payments for methane-reducing projects. Enhancing conservation programs and services available to dairy farmers helps them improve their environmental performance and sustainability, important components of meeting industry Net Zero goals.

  • And also of note, given the H5N1 outbreak the industry currently faces, the bill also would increase funding for animal health programs, such as the National Animal Health Laboratory Network and the National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program, that help protect the health and welfare of dairy cows and other livestock from diseases and pests.

These are just some of the highlights of the House Farm Bill that demonstrate its strong support for the U.S. dairy industry. I commend Chairman Thompson and committee members from both parties for their hard work and bipartisan cooperation in crafting and approving this legislation. I also need to call out the efforts of NMPF staff who, working with our member cooperatives, tirelessly worked to shape legislation that, if adopted, would greatly benefit our industry.

So now we’ve made the opening lap around the field with the House Agriculture Committee’s approval of its bill. But keep in mind the current farm law itself is the result of a one-year extension of the previous bill, and uncertainty abounds given the political calendar this year. I urge the full House and the Senate to follow their lead and get down to work crafting and passing a new Farm Bill as soon as possible.

We know that dairy is well-served by what the House Agriculture Committee has approved. Let’s all take that as positive momentum moving forward.

Gregg Doud

President & CEO, NMPF