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

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.

DMC Program Starts 2023 with Sizeable Payments

The Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program made payments for only two of the twelve months last year, but it will pay $1.56/cwt for $9.50/cwt coverage for January. The January margin was $7.94/cwt, $1.82 lower than December’s. A one-month drop of $1.60/cwt in the U.S. average all-milk price, to $23.10/cwt, accounted for most of the margin drop. A monthly rise in the soybean meal price accounted for about two-thirds of the remaining margin fall, but higher corn and premium alfalfa prices contributed lesser amounts as well.

Available forecasts currently indicate that the monthly DMC margins will remain below $9.50/cwt until September and average just below $8/cwt for this entire calendar year. Signing up $9.50/cwt coverage for the first five million pounds is always recommended as a cost-effective risk management strategy. Even last year’s two payments more than covered the annual premium cost for that level of coverage. This year will almost certainly return many times the cost of this very affordable means of managing margin risk.

No DMC payments again for November

The November DMC margin was $10.89/cwt, eighteen cents higher than the October margin, as costs fell faster than prices.

The U.S. average all-milk price dropped $0.30/cwt in November from a month earlier to $25.60/cwt, while the DMC November feed cost was $0.48/cwt lower than the prior month, driven mostly, in equal measure, by lower soybean meal and premium alfalfa hay prices.

Available forecasts currently project the DMC margin will fall below $9.50/cwt during the first three quarters of 2023.  Enrollment for both calendar year 2023 DMC and Supplemental DMC closes on Jan. 31.

2023 Promises Policy Progress

A Washington truism is that the period that occurs after an election cycle is complete, but the next one hasn’t yet overtaken everyone’s attention, is when policy gets done. That makes it important for this industry to push for significant progress in 2023, as the 118th Congress convenes and clear policy challenges lie ahead.

High on NMPF’s priorities is leading the way toward federal adoption of a modernized Federal Milk Marketing Order system for producers that promotes a stable industry and provides fairer, more-up-to-date pricing for the nutritious and necessary products dairy farmers and their cooperatives provide. We made tremendous progress on this issue in 2022, driving a consensus approach that gathered many of this industry’s smartest minds and, through more than 100 committee and task force meetings of NMPF Board members and producers, and marketing experts from our member cooperatives, from all regions of the country, arrived at a proposal unanimously endorsed at our annual meeting in October. That’s a lot.

But there’s much more required to bring these efforts to fruition – much, much more. NMPF’s proposal itself isn’t quite complete – an important part of the plan, recommendations on updates to the nation’s  Class I price surface, are expected this month. From there, we will seek a final endorsement that prepares the way for us to request a USDA federal order hearing. That also will require extensive preparation, as the national consensus we’ve built among NMPF members will then form the basis of a conversation in which the entire industry will participate.

We welcome that conversation, which undoubtedly will include some good and not-so-good ideas from multiple interests. But throughout that conversation – and the hearing, and ultimately a producer vote – it will be critical to transcend narrow self-interest and work in a spirit of good faith to ensure that FMMO modernization is truly in the best interests of all producers. NMPF has kept that goal throughout; by crafting the most thoroughly researched, discussed, vetted and voted-upon of all proposals, we are in a strong position to meet the leadership challenge that falls to us as the nation’s dairy producer organization. We look forward to meeting this challenge, which will benefit all of dairy for years to come.

At the same time the FMMO discussions advance, we will be very active in shaping the farm bill due later this year, along with engaging in other legislative opportunities (and challenges) that come dairy’s way.

The twice-a-decade reauthorization of federal farm and nutrition programs sets the rhythm of ag policy in Washington, but it’s also important to remember that, in the end, the 2023 Farm Bill is simply another vehicle for advancing better policy, and it’s far from the only one available. Unlike the previous two farm bills, in which dairy policy clearly required significant change, this time around the main farm bill dairy safety net and risk-management programs – the Dairy Margin Coverage Program created at NMPF’s insistence, and the Dairy Revenue Protection and Livestock Gross Margin programs, which NMPF’s efforts made workable for broad producer participation – need evolution more than revolution.

Let’s not forget that the Farm Bill has many components, including sections governing trade, conservation and other areas critical to agriculture, so we’ll make sure all our priorities in the bill are addressed while pursuing other legislative goals, which range from financial incentives that support dairy’s Net Zero vision to immigration programs that work for dairy, through any means possible.

FMMO modernization and the farm bill alone would be more than enough to fill one year of Washington policy work. But of course, these two items are only the beginning of a long list of what must get done, from other legislative initiatives to federal nutrition policy proposals to overcoming regulatory challenges to expanding overseas markets The Biden Administration needs to pick up the pace on new trade deals even as it aggressively enforces existing ones. Yet another iteration of EPA’s Waters of the U.S. rule – this one going the wrong direction for agriculture – requires a strong response. And of course, we’re still waiting for FDA to give its guidance on labeling of plant-based dairy imitators, eternally hoping the agency charged with enforcing accurate nutrition labeling does what’s right for consumers.

Each year in Washington represents a new beginning. Opportunities are plentiful, and opportunities go to those who seize them. We embrace the challenge and expect that, working with the community that moves dairy forward, we can achieve great policy progress in the year ahead.

President & CEO, NMPF

NMPF Urges Farmers to Consider Federal Risk Management Tools as USDA Announces DMC Signup

Milk Loss Disaster Program in Works

With rising costs eroding dairy margins despite high farm milk prices, the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) is urging farmers to sign up for maximum 2023 coverage under USDA’s Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program, an important component of federal dairy risk-management programs supported by NMPF.

USDA has announced that DMC signup begins today, with a deadline of Dec. 7. Despite record prices this year, accompanying record costs resulted in DMC payments for August for farmers enrolled at the maximum coverage level.

“The current combination of high prices with costs that can be even higher illustrates the basic value of DMC for producers who can benefit from the program,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF. “By calculating assistance via a margin rather than a target price, DMC offers a measure of protection against the current cost volatility that’s challenging many milk producers.”

Farmers should also consider signing up for federally backed risk-management programs appropriate to their operations, Mulhern said.

DMC is designed to promote stable revenues and protect against financial catastrophe for small and medium-sized producers. It’s part of a suite of federally backed risk-management tools, including the Dairy Revenue Protection (DRP) program and the Livestock Gross Margin for Dairy Producers (LGM-Dairy) program, which were revamped in the 2018 Farm Bill at NMPF’s urging.

DMC resulted from NMPF’s effort to improve inadequate federal margin-protection insurance. LGM-Dairy and DRP were made workable via NMPF’s efforts to remove spending caps and a ban on enrollment in multiple programs, which previously limited their usefulness.

Mulhern also reminded eligible farmers who did not sign up for supplemental DMC coverage in 2022 based on updated production levels that they have another opportunity to do so this year.

NMPF also reminds producers that USDA is developing a separate milk loss program, as provided for in legislation enacted last year. This program will reimburse dairy producers of all sizes for milk dumped on account of disasters that occurred in 2020 and 2021, including, but not limited to, derechos, excessive heat, winter storms including polar vortexes, droughts, hurricanes, and wildfires. NMPF is working with USDA as it develops the initiative.

Surging Feed Costs Drop the February DMC Margin

The second highest monthly surge in feed costs since the emergence of margin protection as the main federal safety net for farmers lowered the Dairy Margin Coverage Program margin by $0.34/cwt, to $11.20/cwt, in February.

Steady increases in feed costs for the past year and a half were kicked into a yet higher gear by the developing Russia-Ukraine situation, raising fears of reduced global grain production. The February DMC feed cost was $13.50/cwt, up $0.84/cwt from a month earlier and the highest since the introduction of margin protection in 2014. Two-thirds of this increase came from a jump in the price received by U.S. farmers for corn.

Offsetting the jump somewhat – but not enough – was an increase of the U.S. average all-milk price by $0.50/cwt to $24.70/cwt.

The dairy and grain futures markets currently indicate the DMC margin will gradually increase during the remainder of 2022.

October DMC Margin Shows Another Large Monthly Increase

The October margin under the Dairy Margin Coverage program was $8.77/cwt, $1.85/cwt higher than a month earlier, as prices rose and feed costs fell. The October margin will produce a payment of about $0.73/cwt for coverage at the $9.50/cwt level. When eventually topped up with the full dairy-quality alfalfa cost figured in, this payment will rise to $0.96/cwt.

The October DMC feed cost dropped $0.55/cwt from a month earlier, mostly on a lower corn price, while the milk price rose by $1.30/cwt to $19.70/cwt. The increase was the third largest one-month increase since milk price-minus-feed cost margins were first calculated for federal dairy safety-net programs in 2014. Together with August’s increase, October’s margin rose $3.53/cwt over a two-month period.

The recent strength of milk prices is expected to continue through the end of the year, potentially ending this year’s unbroken string of margins below $9.50/cwt.

September DMC Margin Is Large Improvement Over August

The September margin for the Dairy Margin Coverage program rose by $1.68/cwt from a month earlier to $6.93/cwt. The jump was driven by a mostly corn price-driven $0.98/cwt drop in the feed cost formula and an $0.80/cwt increase in the all-milk price, to $18.40/cwt.

The resulting $2.58/cwt September DMC payment for $9.50/cwt coverage will be the ninth consecutive such payment well in excess of $2/cwt this year, with the nine-month average totaling $3.08/cwt. When USDA eventually tops up the payments for this year and last with the full dairy-quality alfalfa price figured into the feed cost calculation, the 2021 average payment for the first nine months will be $3.31/cwt.

USDA is expected to pair the announced regulation on the alfalfa price change with that for the separate Supplemental DMC program.

USDA reported that, as of Oct. 25, the 19,029 operations enrolled in this year’s DMC program are expected to receive $981,249,096 in payments, for an average of $51,566 per enrolled operation, based on previously announced margins. This represents payments for January through August and does not include the eventual top-up payments from the alfalfa price change. The dairy futures continue to indicate that there will be at least another DMC payment for $9.50/cwt coverage during the final three months of the year.