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NMPF Co-op Leader Supports FMMO Modernization, Touts DMC’s Benefits at Senate Hearing

May 2, 2023

Second-generation New York dairy farmer Blake Gendebien championed NMPF’s Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) modernization petition and advocated for a strong dairy safety net at a Senate Agriculture subcommittee hearing held today to review commodity programs in the farm bill.

“We are heartened by the strong support among dairy farmers from coast to coast for this broad proposal,” Gendebien said of NMPF’s FMMO proposal, which the organization submitted to USDA yesterday. “We are hopeful that this comprehensive, thoughtful, measured approach to modernizing the program will be considered as the foundation for a national federal order hearing.”

Gendebien, vice chairman of Agri-Mark, an Andover, MA-based NMPF member cooperative, testified on NMPF’s behalf at the hearing of the Subcommittee on Commodities, Risk Management and Trade, held on Capitol Hill in Washington.

The hearing, titled “Producer Perspectives on the Farm Safety Net,” kicks off Senate consideration of this year’s farm bill reauthorization, due Sept. 30. The measure includes programs important to dairy farmers such as the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) safety net and supports risk management programs such as Dairy-Revenue Protection (Dairy-RP) and Livestock Gross Margin-Dairy (LGM-Dairy).

DMC, which Gendebien lauded in his testimony, offers effective margin protection for small and mid-sized farms and affordable catastrophic coverage for large farms. Risk management programs including Dairy-LP and LGM-Dairy give all farmers the ability to tailor risk management to their specific needs.

“DMC has provided important security to my family’s farm, given the volatility that persists in dairy markets,” Gendebien said in his testimony. “Since the program was implemented in 2019, we have consistently purchased the maximum available DMC coverage at a margin of $9.50 per hundredweight, knowing that it may not pay out every year, but is intended to serve as a safety net when needed.”

The upcoming farm bill still presents an opportunity for improvements, Gendebien said, highlighted NMPF’s work to vet and review potential improvements to the dairy safety net and risk management programs, including a further update to DMC’s production history calculation.

“Dairy farmers need the opportunity to update their production history to reflect more current on-farm production levels,” Gendebien said. “Other farm safety net programs do not use such an outdated production reference.”

On marketing orders, Gendebien supported NMPF’s plan in this year’s farm-program reauthorization to pursue reinstating the previous “higher of” Class I mover, given the asymmetric risk borne by farmers under the current mover.

“There’s a ceiling on how much better the new mover can perform than the old mover,” Gendebien said in response to a question from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Dairy Subcommittee. But because the new mover is capped at 74 cents per hundredweight but has no floor, “it really causes a problem,” he said. “In 2020 and in 2022, the divergence in III and IV cost farmers about $900 million. We’d like to go back to the original “higher of,” which would eliminate those massive losses.”

Gendebien at the hearing also supported increased resources for farmer mental health services. “We need to remove the stigma around mental health,” he said, responding to a question from Gillibrand.