NMPF’s Mulhern Speaks on Tom Vilsack’s Nomination to Lead USDA

NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern talks about Tom Vilsack’s nomination to become USDA Secretary on Brownfield Ag News. “He has a deep understanding of our industry and frankly, I think a deeper understanding of all of U.S. agriculture,” Mulhern says in the broadcast.

Podcast: Sen. Pat Roberts on His Past and Agriculture’s Future

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts is leaving Congress after 40 years in January. The only person to lead both the House and Senate agriculture committees takes with him a wealth of wisdom in agriculture policy – but also holds optimism for agriculture’s ability to get things done in an environment of difficult challenges.

“I would just say that I am very confident that the people who will be taking my place, they have a lot of experience,” Roberts said in a Dairy Defined interview released today. “They’re good folks. I think the same attempt, at least, with regards to making it bipartisan, will continue.”

Roberts, who first came to Washington as a congressional staffer a half-century ago, also reflects on the two farm bills he led — 1996’s Freedom to Farm law and the 2018 bill — as well as one area where he wished he could have done more: his leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee during the Iraq War. He also said he doesn’t consider his career to be over – without revealing plans, he said that when it comes to farm policy, “I intend to have my finger in the pie somewhere.”

To listen to the full discussion, click here. You can also find this and other NMPF podcasts on iHeartRadio, Apple Podcasts, SpotifySoundCloud and Google Play. Broadcast outlets may use the MP3 file. Please attribute information to NMPF.

Dairy Industry Applauds USTR Action to Address Canadian TRQ Violations

The U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) applaud today’s announcement that the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) will initiate official consultations with Canada to examine the administration of its dairy Tariff Rate Quota (TRQ) obligations. The two organizations, with strong bipartisan backing from Congress, have long raised the alarm about the need to ensure the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is fully enforced, due to Canada’s history of undermining its trade commitments.

“USMCA is designed to improve trade with Canada, while modifying some of Canada’s trade-distorting dairy policies. We knew from day one that enforcement would be key to bringing the intended benefits home to America’s dairy industry. I applaud USTR for hearing our concerns and relying on our guidance to take this critical enforcement step to ensure that the agreement is executed in both letter and spirit,” said Tom Vilsack, president and CEO of USDEC. “This is the critical first step, but more work may be needed to ensure Canada complies with its Class 7 related USMCA commitments as well.”

Even prior to its entry into force, USDEC and NMPF monitored Canada’s actions regarding its USMCA commitments and urged Congress and the administration to make this a priority as soon as USMCA entered into force. Canada has distorted its TRQ administration to limit imports from the U.S. Earlier this year, USDEC and NMPF highlighted for USTR and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the inconsistencies between Canada’s dairy TRQ allocations and Canada’s USMCA obligations. In a detailed filing submitted to the administration, NMPF and USDEC provided the agencies with a specific legal review of the Canadian TRQ system and an explanation of the negative impacts resulting from them.

“America’s dairy farmers appreciate USTR’s commitment to the fair and transparent enforcement of USMCA. Enforcement has been one of the top priorities of our industry since the final agreement was announced, and we’ve worked diligently to ensure that it remains one of USTR’s top priorities, as well. Only when Canada is held fully accountable to its trade commitments will America’s dairy farmers be able to realize the full benefit of the provisions that the U.S. government worked so hard to secure,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF. “We look forward to working closely with the incoming administration as well since enforcement efforts are likely to require sustained focus going forward.”

The concerns raised by USDEC and NMPF have been echoed by a broad bipartisan coalition of members of Congress. In August, 104 Representatives sent a letter to USTR and USDA asking for Canada to be held accountable to its trade promises while a letter in the Senate was signed by 25 Senators. USDEC and NMPF commend the continued engagement of so many members of Congress on this important issue.

NMPF Celebrates Rep. Glenn Thompson’s Election as Ranking Member of House Agriculture Committee

The National Milk Producers Federation today congratulated Representative Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-PA) on being elected by his colleagues to serve as the Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee in the 117th Congress. Rep. Thompson is the descendant of a long line of dairy farmers and been a champion of dairy producers on the House Agriculture Committee since coming to Congress in 2009.

“We have enjoyed working with Congressman Thompson and his team for years. GT has been a vocal and effective advocate for the needs of dairy farmers in Pennsylvania and throughout the country,” said Jim Mulhern, NMPF president and CEO. “He also has a keen understanding of the need to build a vibrant rural economy to sustain a safe, abundant, and affordable food supply to nourish our country and our planet.”

During his time in Congress, Rep. Thompson has played a critical role in enacting bipartisan policies that create an effective climate for dairy farmers and their cooperatives to produce safe, healthy dairy products in an environmentally sustainable manner. As Vice Chairman of the Agriculture Committee, GT worked with his colleagues to secure much-needed dairy policy reforms, culminating in the Dairy Margin Coverage program created in the 2018 Farm Bill.

Congressman Thompson served as Chairman of the Conservation and Nutrition Subcommittees during the writing of the last two farm bills. He has championed bipartisan legislation to improve the effectiveness of farm bill conservation programs and to enhance consumption of nutritious dairy products. In addition, GT has been a vocal advocate for expanding markets for all farmers, helping to push through the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement last year.

“Congressman Thompson’s bipartisan record of achievement speaks for itself, and we are eager to work with him to build on that record as he assumes his new role,” said Mulhern. “We congratulate GT on his appointment as Ranking Member and know he will continue to be a leading voice in the House for dairy and all of agriculture.”

NMPF featured Rep. Thompson on its Dairy Defined podcast earlier this year. The full interview is available here.

NMPF Strikes Bipartisan Tone as Election Results Become Clear

NMPF congratulated President-elect Joe Biden and members of the incoming 117th Congress as election results became clear in November, pledging to work with both political parties to craft solutions to dairy and agriculture’s needs.

“Congratulations to President-elect Biden and the incoming members of the 117th Congress, who will have a lot of work to do in this country, from legislating to building common ground,” said NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern in a Nov. 9 statement. “Dairy is ready to do its part and work with the administration and Congress to face difficult problems successfully, in the bipartisan spirit we have always practiced and believed in.”

NMPF that same day elaborated its commitment to cooperation in a Dairy Defined column that acknowledged political realities while pledging to be part of their solution. “Looking at the political landscape that’s coming into focus after the 2020 elections – the most bitter and viciously fought in anyone’s memory — it’s safe to say that for at least the next two years, bipartisanship isn’t everything. It’s the only thing, as hard as that may be for some to accept at this moment,” the column said.

NMPF followed up on social media with a series of tweets congratulating dairy champions who were re-relected to Congress, keeping dairy at the front of attention in Congress as lawmakers consider coronavirus-related stimulus legislation and other agriculture-related programs.

Washington May Be Divided, But Bipartisanship Aids Dairy Gains

A bitter election season is winding down, and the shape of the Biden Administration and Congress is becoming clear. Just as clear is another political reality: Washington next year will be, if anything, more closely divided than it was before.

That places bipartisanship at a premium, as any lasting solutions to policy challenges will require cooperation from both sides of the aisle. Fortunately, dairy is well-situated to play an important role in the agreements that will be necessary to get anything done in Washington, as evidenced by the many bipartisan policy gains that bore fruit for dairy in 2020.

Consider this. At the beginning of this year, dairy prices were projected at levels sufficient to keep income-over-feed-costs margins high enough to avoid triggering payments under the Dairy Margin Coverage Program. Instead, as the coronavirus crisis seized the nation beginning in March, prices plunged, leading to emergency-milk dumping and triggering about $200 million in payments to producers who enrolled in DMC.

That assistance came about because of the 2018 farm bill, passed with the support of both parties and including a revamp of dairy risk management tools that literally paid off at an incredibly crucial time. Signup for DMC coverage in 2021 is open until Dec. 11, and with payouts projected for the first eight months of the year, it’s important that farmers take advantage of this important program. Doing so directly delivers the benefits of effective bipartisan policymaking to the farm.

On top of DMC assistance, bipartisan cooperation yielded several benefits to dairy this year that have proven crucial to farmers’ economic health. The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (the latest round of which also has a Dec. 11 signup deadline) bolstered many farmers’ cash flows, with two rounds of payments providing disaster assistance averaging as high as $2.47 per cwt for all milk marketed in 2020 and softening the blows of pandemic disruptions for many farm families. In tandem with CFAP, the Farmers to Families Food Box program has fed those in need and kept processors in business, benefiting communities, preserving jobs and ensuring that farmers have supply chains to serve.

NMPF also helped ensure that programs implemented for small businesses nationwide worked for dairy. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs), two coronavirus-related rescue measures implemented by the Small Business Administration (SBA), initially evolved from a hope to a frustration for dairy producers, who didn’t have equitable access to the programs. Working with allies, members of Congress from both parties, and administration officials, NMPF rectified many of the hurdles to the programs, increasing dairy’s access to the small business support as the SBA programs continued.

This more than $5 billion infusion of federal aid, and ongoing improvements in their administration, has been a difference-maker for dairies across the nation. Albeit, not all our farmers received the same level of support due to issues including payment limitations, organizational structures or market volatility. Nevertheless, in a telling statistic, the pace of dairy farm consolidation appears to be slowing this year – this is counterintuitive given the disruptions farms have faced, but a tribute to the effective efforts made to help farmers weather these storms.

All of it has been the product of fruitful collaboration, from within the dairy community as we at the National Milk Producers Federation and cooperatives and dairy associations across the country together pursued policy goals, to Capitol Hill, where champions in both parties spoke out on the need for dairy initiatives, and in the administration, which implemented programs funded by a Democratic House of Representatives and a Republican Senate for the betterment of dairy.

We’ve also fostered bipartisan collaboration on trade, with lawmakers from both parties calling for action against protectionist EU practices that inhibit dairy-export growth and defending the use of common cheese names. And we’ve worked for bipartisan agreement on immigration – a promising package passed in the House nearly one year ago stalled in the Senate as coronavirus demanded attention, but renewed efforts are expected in the next Congress.

In the near term, we remain hopeful that Congress may pass another COVID-19 relief package this month, given the acute strains our health-care systems and economy are facing now and for at least the next several months. Times of crisis demand unity – and despite the tendency toward reflective naysaying about Washington, consensus is possible to achieve, as the gains of the past year have shown. NMPF is advocating for additional relief for dairy producers that reflects the losses they have suffered, no matter the size of an operation. We are also urging Congress to approve a dairy donation program that can maximize dairy consumption among food-insecure populations.

In 2021 NMPF will continue its work as an advocate for dairy producers and their cooperatives in policy decisions, with our hallmark bipartisanship giving us a seat at the table wherever, whenever, and with whomever is making important decisions affecting farmer livelihoods.

NMPF Congratulates President-Elect Biden and Incoming Congress

The National Milk Producers Federation congratulated President-elect Joe Biden and members of the upcoming 117th Congress for their election victories, pledging to work for bipartisan solutions to the many challenges faced in agriculture and in the nation.

“Congratulations to President-elect Biden and the incoming members of the 117th Congress, who will have a lot of work to do in this country, from legislating to building common ground,” said NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern. “Dairy is ready to do its part and work with the administration and Congress to face difficult problems successfully, in the bipartisan spirit we have always practiced and believed in.”

NMPF has long been committed to working with both major political parties for sound, consensus-based public policy. More on NMPF’s approach to policy, why dairy farmers and the cooperatives they own possess a distinct voice within agriculture, and the crucial role they can play in the months ahead, can be found in this week’s Dairy Defined column.

Jim Mulhern Remarks at NMPF/NDB/UDIA Joint Annual Meeting

Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of remarks made Oct. 27.

Good afternoon, and good morning to all of you joining us in the West. Let me add my thanks to you for being here for our first-ever — and I hope last ever — virtual annual meeting. I do wish we could be together in person and, like all of you, I’m looking forward to getting to the other side of this dreadful pandemic. But right now, we’re all trying hard to make the best of a bad situation.

So, I want to jump right into things here with a few brief remarks.  Then we’ve got another great presentation for you: Our annual NMPF Town Hall issues update with a panel featuring some of our key experts working on your behalf on a wide range of dairy policy issues, economics and the FARM Program.

Because of our more limited time format for this year’s meeting we’ve condensed our traditional Town Hall panel for this live presentation. But we still want you to provide you with more in-depth discussions on all the issue areas we are involved in. So, we’ve taped a series of presentations that you can find online on our website, nmpf.org. I encourage you to watch them at your convenience to learn more about the wide range of important work NMPF has done this year.

And, man, what a year. For those who were with us last year in New Orleans, I’m sure none of you remember what I talked about. But my message was the importance of resilience — how it is one of the key strengths that all of you as dairy farmers consistently exhibit and how it has helped us get through nearly a half-decade of difficult times.

Well, little did I know back then just how important resilience was going to be for all of us. This year has posed challenges beyond what any of us could have imagined just one year ago…. challenges on our farms, in our families, and to our futures.

And yet, the obstacles we’ve faced this year will only make us stronger as we deal with the hardships that, yes, still lie ahead.

Think back to March, when the COVID-19 crisis began to profoundly change all our lives. The challenges were immediate… and clear. The solutions, less so. At National Milk, as we looked at all of this, there were a few things we knew. We knew that the nation’s dairy farmers and our member cooperatives are essential for the nourishment of those we serve. We knew that the dairy community can be formidable when it pursues its goals with unity and commitment. And we knew that our organization has demonstrated a track record of effectiveness, even in the face of daunting tasks.

That all gave us confidence. And just like the thousands of dairy farmers we serve, we went to work to tackle the crisis, consulting closely with our leaders, seeking ways to stem the damage and improve lives.

We needed to be a resource to not only our dues-paying members, but to all dairy farmers who were dealing with immediate crises in their operations and supply chains. And even in those darkest times, there were bright spots. Aided greatly by the efforts of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, international trade saw strong demand. Here at home, retail milk flew off store shelves, as consumers showed their support for the nutritious beverages they relied on most.

But the root of dairy’s resilience was centered, as always, on the farm, and led by many of you…. our farmer-leaders. Faced with an unprecedented rupture in the balance of supply and demand, many farmers used every tool in their arsenal to throttle back production — from changing feed rations and milking schedules to putting the brakes on herd expansion. Those efforts helped stave off what would have been a complete price collapse and they set the stage for a rebound.

Farmers and our co-ops took important steps to address the issues they could control. Meanwhile, we advocated for our industry before Congress and  USDA, and the White House. As a highly perishable, 24/7/365 days a year commodity, dairy never stops, and that made the need for immediate, robust support for dairy simply essential. We engaged in marathon discussions, and strategized across the industry and throughout the government. Together, we succeeded in making sure dairy received important levels of government disaster assistance, both in the first round of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program payments and in the more recent CFAP 2.

To be sure, these government programs are far from perfect – not all farms were treated equally, and we continue to work with Congress and USDA to remedy flaws in future disaster assistance. But this assistance did much to cushion the immediate blows to balance sheets from COVID-19. And it continues to help stabilize operations nationwide.

Beyond direct federal disaster assistance, we also knew that, while farm payments helped, they didn’t address the root of COVID-19’s impact on dairy – the devastating blow to dairy demand from lost foodservice sales, a huge part of our market.

We emphasized to policy makers how government dairy purchases can create a positive economic cycle, with programs like the popular Food Boxes providing  products to families hit hard by the pandemic. Those government purchases create demand that strengthens prices, keeps processors operating and enables dairy farmers to get support where they really want it — through improved milk checks.

We’ve experienced a roller-coaster ride in prices for sure – but the federal assistance kept the worst-case scenarios from occurring. And it shows yet again how effective advocacy can prompt a forceful and helpful government response.

Just as important as protecting our businesses, of course, is protecting our families, and our workers, and our communities, especially during a pandemic. Dairy has always been a leader in stewardship to our land, our animals and our community – and this year has been no exception. Through the National Dairy FARM program, we quickly made available industry best practices and guidance to help address the crisis, and through our outreach and our coronavirus toolbox on our website, we gave our members – and all dairy farmers – the information they needed to adjust to dairy farming in this new reality.

So, what will all this mean in the days ahead? Well, make no mistake: this crisis is far from over. Without a vaccine, with an uncertain political future, with an economy that still hasn’t found a “new normal,” there’s no happy ending I can share with you today, because we still have a long way to go. But I’d like to conclude with a few observations that offer hope and optimism for the journey ahead:

  •  First, it is the strength of Farmer-owned dairy cooperatives that have led the industry through this crisis, and they will carry it through to the end. From our economic leadership, to our commitment to customers and consumers, to making our voices heard in Washington, co-ops remain the heart and soul of this industry. And this industry benefits best when our cooperatives speak with unified voices, on everything from marketing orders to on-farm best practices.
  • Despite the few naysayers out there who love to sow discord in difficult times, it is our unity as an industry that enables us to achieve our goals and helps us prevail. We will continue to work together as this crisis evolves, and our track record of success this year helps set the stage for future success.
  • Finally, the lessons we’ve learned here are applicable elsewhere. We have learned that the Dairy Margin Coverage program, which we fought for in the 2018 farm bill, provides important risk management and affordable catastrophic coverage when farmers need it most.  And we’ve learned again that the positive stewardship story so crucial this year, focusing on farmers and their high level of  care for their animals and the land, this provides the backbone needed for other exciting and challenging endeavors, such as our industrywide Net Zero Initiative and our Stewardship Commitment goals.

So, know that our challenges and risks are far from over.

But we’ve already proven a lot – to ourselves, and to the nation. We will get through this, and we’re stronger now than before. Throughout the world, everyone is hoping tomorrow will be brighter. We KNOW it will be, because of the work we’ve done together that has brought us here today.

Thanks again for this opportunity to speak to you.

FDA Must Enforce Fake-Dairy Rules, NMPF Tells Agency Ombudsman in New Advocacy Phase

With FDA giving little indication of promised action on proper labeling of imitation dairy products, the National Milk Producers Federation today asked the agency’s ombudsman to ensure that rules are properly enforced.

“Allowing unlawfully labeled ‘plant-based’ imitation dairy foods to proliferate poses an immediate and growing risk to public health; it is a clear dereliction of the FDA’s duty to enforce federal law and agency regulations,” wrote NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern in the letter, sent to Dr. Laurie Lenkel, ombudsman for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “The FDA’s Office of the Ombudsman must intervene to break the bureaucratic logjam that is adversely affecting consumers. Doing so would fit squarely within the Office’s own mission to ensure even-handed application of FDA policy and procedures.”

The FDA ombudsman, based in the agency commissioner’s office, “serves as a neutral and independent resource for members of FDA-regulated industries when they experience problems with the regulatory process,” according to the agency. NMPF is urging the ombudsman’s office to take appropriate action to remedy the FDA’s lax approach to enforcing its own rules on the use of dairy terms on products containing no dairy ingredients, which have proven impacts on public health – a new phase of advocacy brought about by the agency’s regrettable inaction. The American Academy of Pediatrics and other organizations have offered evidence of nutritional deficiencies caused by confusion over the contents of plant-based versus dairy beverages.

NMPF last year released its own road map offering solutions to how public health, product integrity and free speech could be protected through updated regulations. NMPF also supports the DAIRY PRIDE Act, a potential legislative prod for FDA action, and has asked FDA commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn to follow up on the pledge he made nearly one year ago to make fake-dairy labeling a high-priority issue at FDA.

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

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.