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NMPF Chair Mooney Says Dairy is Meeting “Biggest Challenges of Our Lifetimes”

October 27, 2020

The extreme disruptions and financial upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have created real struggles for dairy producers – and the industry has responded by rising to an unprecedented occasion, said Randy Mooney, chairman of the National Milk Producers Federation, to delegates Monday at NMPF’s first-ever virtual annual meeting.

“We haven’t landed safely yet, but there’s plenty of reason to believe that we as an organization and an industry have risen to the biggest challenges of our lifetimes, and that we’ll be able to look back with pride on our response to the pandemic,” Mooney said in his remarks, this week’s Dairy Defined podcast. The podcast can also be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify,  SoundCloud and Google Play.

NMPF’s annual meeting continues today and is free of charge to registrants. More information about the meeting — the largest dairy-farmer policy gathering in the U.S. — is here, and registration information is here.

Broadcast outlets may use the MP3 file. Please attribute information to NMPF.

Randy Mooney:

First of all, I want to thank you for meeting virtually today. It’s important that despite the logistical challenges, we can work together to keep this organization functioning at a high level. I’ve been pleased that, through Zoom and other means, we’ve used new technology to communicate.

When I think about 2020, I’m reminded of the movie, Apollo 13. It has a well-known line from Ed Harris, who plays the head of NASA’s mission control, when he says, “Failure is not an option.” That mentality, I think, applies to the dairy industry this year as well. When we were facing a catastrophe this spring, in terms of the marketing environment, we didn’t panic and we didn’t prepare to fail. While we knew things were going to be bad, we rolled up our sleeves and we got to work, same as NASA’s engineers did in saving the crew of Apollo 13. And we came up with solutions to prevent the collective failure of the entire dairy farmer community.

I can remember calling Rick Smith and Jim Mulhern in the early part of the pandemic and saying to them, “If something doesn’t happen, we’re not going to recognize the US dairy industry when this is all over.” Now, obviously my concern was for hundreds and maybe even thousands of our dairy farmer friends and neighbors’ balance sheets and the fact that they could actually go bankrupt under the dire scenario it looked like we was in.

Our mission to work with Congress and USDA to make certain that dairy farmers were eligible for significant direct payments to stop the bleeding caused by the price collapse. The CFAP payments in the first round and the second will deliver about $3 billion to producers, which doesn’t include any money for commodities beyond milk, such as beef or feed grains. The Dairy Margin Coverage program, which we helped to greatly improve in the 2018 Farm Bill, added more on top of that. And then the Farmers to Family Food Box program helped stimulate demand when our food service was collapsed. We worked with USDA to ensure that they were supplying food boxes that included milk, cheese, and butter to shore up our prices. And the three rounds of food box purchases added another billion dollars in new dairy demand when it was needed desperately, and the rebound in commodity prices this summer is a result of our effort to make USDA’s programs work for us.

In order to keep farmers in cooperative solvent, we also worked on Capitol Hill to make the new SBA loan programs, the Paycheck Protection Program, and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program useful to farmers. I’ve heard from a number of farmers who applied for and received these forgivable loans this summer, and they have served as a bridge to keep small businesses solvent while the economy improves.

All these things are why we have a National Milk organization in Washington, DC. These billions of dollars in resources didn’t just fall from the sky. They resulted from hard work, working with our member cooperatives, working with you to maximize the financial assistance needed to prevent a catastrophic loss for our industry.

Are we out of the woods yet? Well, certainly not. The economy still has too many unemployed workers and too many restaurants are closing for good. The food service sector is going to be hurting for a while and we need the federal government to continue stimulating demand, but we’ve made it over the hump, I hope. We will be ready to work with whoever’s in the White House next year to continue the work of recovery for dairy and for the broader ag community and for the nation.

There’s also a lesser known scene in Apollo 13 where the same character who runs mission control, when a colleague tells him the Apollo 13 mission will be NASA’s biggest disaster, and he turns to him and he says, “No, this will be our finest hour.” We haven’t landed safely yet, but there’s plenty of reason to believe that we as an organization and an industry have risen to the biggest challenges of our lifetimes. And we’ll be able to look back with pride about our response to the pandemic as being one of the greatest accomplishments in the 115-year history of National Milk. Any one of us can second guess how the CFAP payments were paid out, but the fact of the matter is we have come through a period here when the outcome could have been disastrous to our industry.

A major reason for our ability to accomplish what we have is because of you, and I never want to miss the opportunity to thank you for being a part of National Milk. Obviously, we couldn’t and wouldn’t survive without your continued financial support, so thank you for your commitment, but also your leadership. This was the first year of our Executive Committee Structure, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. We were meeting weekly during the critical first few weeks of the pandemic, and I want to say thank you to the committee members for their leadership and their guidance.

And last, and certainly not least, to the staff. Unbelievable work during a very difficult time. As we all know, we are an industry that never shuts down. The pressures never let up. They only multiply in the dairy business. And, Jim, to you and all your staff, a very sincere thanks for a job well done.

I would like to close by saying, it’s an honor and it’s a privilege to serve as chairman of National Milk. I personally want to thank you for allowing me to fill the role of chairman of this great organization, so thank you very much.