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CEO’s Corner: Lessons Learned Will Move Our Industry, and Country, Forward

July 1, 2020

Midway through a history-making year, we in dairy can take with us important lessons from its first half as we face whatever the second half may bring. To do that, it’s important to take a brief moment to reflect on what we have learned and what it means for the months ahead.

First – A catastrophic collapse in dairy prices has been followed by a dramatic rebound. But once-bitten, twice-shy. Current news on the dairy economy is promising: Prices are up, and forecasts are for them to remain relatively strong. A combination of farmer initiative, federal action and consumer support has meaningfully advanced our industry.

But as we have painfully learned this year, expect the unexpected.

Yes, dairy farmers have reason for optimism, but recent experience has taught us the importance of smart risk management like never before. Signing up for next year’s Dairy Margin Coverage Program, as well as understanding the full range of tools available to producers, will be all the more important going forward, even as we at NMPF seek additional needed assistance from Capitol Hill.

Second – Retail consumers are revitalizing milk demand, but trade remains crucial to our future. One of the most important silver linings of the coronavirus cloud is dairy’s rediscovery in households across the nation. That’s a genuine gain, and it’s something to build upon. But it shouldn’t obscure the fact that expanded trade and increased access to foreign markets is critical to U.S. dairy’s future, and we will need to fight even harder for our international share going forward.

Robust trade was an unsung hero for dairy demand this spring, and that underscores the need to redouble efforts to expand our presence in global markets. But barriers remain, and other countries are creative at erecting new ones. We must be vigilant.

Third – The past few months have seen major upheaval not only because of a global pandemic, but because of a nationwide reckoning with racial injustice and inequality that must finally be acknowledged and addressed.  Dairy producers share the same concerns and desire for progress that our fellow citizens do.

Knowing how to respond to such a massive issue that permeates our history and touches every aspect of national life can be challenging. It’s sometimes hard to watch what’s happening in cities when you’re in a rural area, where the police are your neighbors and outrages seem far away. It’s also difficult to admit the extent to which these tensions exist in our own lives, and within our own community of agriculture. But to move forward as an industry – indeed, as a country — we must always look toward the broader national landscape even as we grapple with our own challenges as individuals and leaders in our own communities.

It’s not only our economy that’s reaching for a new normal. Our society is as well, and in the months ahead we will need to do our own part, in our own soul-searching ways, to keep our country moving toward what our founders called “a more perfect union.”

Finally – We have once again learned dairy is never stronger than when it works together. That has been recognized industrywide through our collective experience of seeing how dairy’s united voice on Capitol Hill and among federal agencies helped secure swift, meaningful assistance that will help dairy farmers weather this crisis.

But the true heroes are dairy farmers and the cooperatives they own, who have lived up to the spirit of self-help that has embodied NMPF since its founding in 1916. Through smart farmer stewardship and base plans implemented at cooperatives nationwide, production was throttled back effectively in April in May – a crucial factor in fostering the rapid price recovery we have seen.  That leadership is dairy farming at its best – and it shows that whatever happens in the second half of the year, we will face it with that much more strength because of what we’ve been through.

None of us have ever experienced anything like we have in the first half of 2020, and all of us hope we never experience a year like this one again. But we’re halfway through it. We’re resilient, we’re better prepared for what’s to come, and we’re in it together. Let’s continue our work.