NMPF’s Bjerga on Trade, FMMO

NMPF Executive Vice President Alan Bjerga speaks with RFD-TV about how all of agriculture needs to fight for the integrity of trade agreements in the wake of a USMCA dispute panel decision that failed to protect U.S. access to Canada’s market. The President’s Export Council, with member co-op Land O’Lakes representing farmers, discussed the importance of market access in a White House meeting on Wednesday. Bjerga also talked about the resumption of the USDA Federal Milk Marketing Order hearing in Indiana this week, and how repeated delays aren’t helpful for milk producers.

Overcoming challenges is what we do

By Randy Mooney, Chairman, NMPF Board of Directors

We’ve had a lot of achievements this year, but it’s also been a challenging time.

A year ago, costs on the farm were extremely high, but we had prices that would cover that. This year, costs are still high, but prices are down. That’s a lot of stress on the farm. And we’re also dealing with problems that we’ve dealt with for years.

There are labor problems; you just can’t find anybody to work. Supply chain disruptions are closer to the farm this year. It’s milk trucks getting milk off the farm; it’s feed trucks bringing feed into the farm. It’s getting simple parts that we took for granted we could get anytime we wanted to. There are geopolitical issues and extreme weather events.

We have challenges all the time, but it just seems like we continue to have more. It seems like we’re in the eye of a storm. But as farmers, we always anticipate a moment before the dawn, before things turn, before things get good again.

One of the things I’ve learned is that a lot of the world is envious of what we have.

They’re envious because we have the Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Program, a self-governing program. We have a government that recognizes what we’re doing with sustainability — it’s not being mandated down from the top.

We’re taking care of our own. Today, we produce more milk using fewer and fewer natural resources. We’re revitalizing rural communities. For every dollar generated in dairy farming, it turns over three to seven times in local communities, generating $750 billion in the United States. That‘s pretty impressive.

We’re nourishing families around the world through milk’s unbeatable nutritional value. I’ve dairy farmed for a long time, through good times and bad times, but there’s never been a time that I haven’t laid my head down on my pillow at night and been proud of what I accomplished on my farm. We’re putting the most nourishing, most nutritious product known to man in that milk tank. And when that truck leaves, I know I’ve done something good.

Our ability to evolve how we work and adapt our resiliency is becoming more and more important. This year, we came together as an industry to unite around issues that helped build that resiliency. NMPF worked with member co-ops, farm bureaus, and state dairy organizations to come to consensus on the most substantial issues. Even going back to 2021, when you talk about Federal Milk Marketing Order modernization, we’ve worked hard to get these things done. Nobody knows what the outcome’s going to be, but you telling your story has made a difference.

Beyond that, we’re going to get a farm bill passed — we’re going have an extension. We’ve been working to implement the next version of FARM, FARM 5.0, that goes into effect in July. We also will work on promoting dairy’s sustainable nutrition. Dairy offers the most complete nutritional package available, and what’s amazing is that as we produce more milk, we’ll continue to use fewer natural resources. That’s the definition of sustainable nutrition.

For years, we’ve talked about sustainability in terms of environmental stewardship and how that translates into financial value for farms. Now, the financial values are there. You take solar panels, wind, methane digesters, and a lot of things happen on a farm that’s generating electricity to run your farms and to run your neighbor’s households. We’re there now. What we need is conservation funding in the farm bill through USDA grants through state and federal programs. There’s real money available to help us continue to do that, and we will.

No imitation food from a nut, a bean, or grain can hold a candle to dairy’s nutritional package. We all know that. That’s why it’s important to keep fighting the fight on plant-based alternative labeling. In the guidance that was issued earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognized and admitted that plant-based alternatives are nutritionally inferior to real dairy.

Dairy protein plays a critical role in feeding people around the world, and it can’t be replaced by alternatives, including plant-based. Consumers have the right to understand how they’re nourishing their families, and we’re going to continue to advocate for the Dairy PRIDE Act to try to get that passed in Congress.

We’re going to continue to fight for more flavored milk in schools and higher fat levels, especially for those children whose main source of nutrition is through the school milk program. Milk is essential to their diets, and we’re not going to give up that fight. We’re all part of an industry that’s doing remarkable things. We are winning.

This has been adapted from Chairman of the NMPF Board of Directors Randy Mooney’s speech at the National Milk Producers Federation annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., on Nov. 14, 2023. This column originally appeared in Hoard’s Dairyman Intel on Nov. 22, 2023.

NMPF Engages on New Federal Supply Chain Program

NMPF and USDEC coordinated a Sept. 8 U.S. Department of Transportation briefing on its Freight Logistics Optimization Works (FLOW) program to a group of members that have been engaged in the organizations’ supply chain working group.

A novel approach to optimizing supply chain data, FLOW allows U.S. stakeholders including ocean carriers, ports, motor carriers, railroads, warehousers and others to exchange data and better measure cargo traffic demand versus equipment supply. FLOW incorporates elements of the now-defunct USDA Ocean Shipping Container Availability Report, which NMPF and USDEC have long advocated for resuming. The two organizations are also pressing the U.S. government for increased transparency into the export supply chain, including through expanding dairy exporter participation in FLOW.

NMPF Engages on Supply Chain Solutions

As supply chains struggle to fully recover from the pandemic, NMPF continued to engage Congress and the administration on ways to improve ocean and freight shipping.

Representative John Garamendi, D-CA, introduced the Ocean Shipping Competition Enforcement Act on April 8. Supported by NMPF, the bill would allow the Federal Maritime Commission to block anti-competitive agreements among ocean common carriers and maritime terminal operators – an important step in leveling the playing field with dairy exporters.

Additionally, NMPF joined partner organizations in sending two letters from industry urging the U.S. government to address a pair of ocean shipping concerns.  NMPF joined leading agriculture and retail organizations March 24 in calling for the administration to help resolve the ongoing West Coast port labor negotiations. Ocean terminal operators and workers have made little progress on a new labor agreement since the last contract expired over ten months ago. U.S. dairy exporters need the two parties to reach an agreement so that West Coast ports can return to operating at full capacity, a message that NMPF continues to relay on Capitol Hill.

Separately, NMPF joined the Agriculture Transportation Coalition in sending a letter to Representatives Dusty Johnson and John Garamendi, asking the OSRA co-sponsors to direct the maritime commission to address fees being incurred at rail depots for factors outside of dairy exporters’ control. Although OSRA required a stop of unwarranted fees at ocean ports, railyards currently fall outside of the commission’s jurisdiction. NMPF and its allies are advocating for Reps. Johnson and Garamendi to formally clarify the authority of the maritime commission under the OSRA to regulate these charges and facilitate more efficient and fair ocean shipping.

Record Exports Drive U.S. Dairy Demand

By William Loux, Vice President, Global Economic Affairs, NMPF and U.S. Dairy Export Council.

U.S. dairy exports excelled again in 2022, with record shipments further cementing its role as the key demand driver for U.S. milk.

For the third consecutive year, the U.S. dairy industry set a record for the volume of dairy products exported on a milk solids equivalent basis, with the current record now surpassing 2.4 million metric tons — the equivalent of over 40 billion pounds of raw milk, or 18% of the U.S. milk supply.

Perhaps even more impressive, for the fifth time in the last six years, U.S. exports grew by more than domestic consumption. Of that six-year window, 2019 was the only time in that span when exports grew by less than domestic sales. That’s the year the U.S. faced prohibitive retaliatory tariffs on dairy products destined for China. In addition, African Swine Fever was cratering China’s demand for whey products. At the same time, U.S. skim milk powder exporters were facing headwinds from EU intervention storage stocks that began hitting the market at below-market prices in 2019. All this noted, with 2019 being a particularly unique exception, the international market has been the driver of U.S. dairy demand growth for the past six years.

Success can’t be taken for granted

European milk production came on strong at the tail end of 2022 as favorable weather and margins boosted output. Conversely, demand within the European Union bloc has reportedly weakened as consumers feel the squeeze on their wallets, which is causing European wholesale prices to dip. With more supply, weaker internal demand, and low prices, we can expect significantly more competition from Europe in the international market than we did in 2022 when their exports dropped 10% during the first 11 months of the year.

Additionally, the international demand picture remains uncertain. Despite the clear success of U.S. dairy, the world’s collective dairy trade actually dropped 4% in 2022 — primarily on account of China. The world’s largest dairy product-importing nation contracted dairy imports by 21% as the country drew down inventories built in 2021, witnessed a surge in domestic milk supplies, and instituted movement restrictions, all of which damaged dairy consumption and imports.

China’s return to the market in 2023 remains uncertain. The lockdowns have been lifted, but milk production in the country is still growing, and inventories of milk powder reportedly remain heavy. Optimistically, consumption in the country will rebound and stockpiles will be reduced, setting the stage for China’s return as a global buyer in the middle part of the year. But until they do, New Zealand, which exported over 40% of its production to China at its peak, will have plenty of products available for customers elsewhere, meaning increased competition with the United States.

Outside of China, the demand picture will likely be mixed depending on local conditions, but broadly, slower economic growth and inflation are expected to challenge lower-income consumers and push buyers to look for bargains.

Overall, I am forecasting international demand in 2023 to return to growth, but not at a spectacular rate, and with more suppliers competing for business.

Given the expected headwinds this year, industry investment in international markets will be critical to success. To set another record in 2023, the U.S. must continue the work being done to build demand for U.S. dairy products overseas and expand market access in key markets, all while maintaining reliability with international customers by being engaged and responsive.

This column originally appeared in Hoard’s Dairyman Intel on Feb. 21, 2023.

NMPF Helps Keep Trains (and Boats) Running

NMPF staff and allied organizations played critical roles in keeping transportation networks running in early December, as the prospect of a rail labor strike heightened concerns of an already strained supply chain completely derailing. To ensure that the rail service remained uninterrupted for dairy producers who rely on consistent rail movement both for sourcing feed and moving finished product, NMPF took member concerns to Capitol Hill.

Four rail labor unions voted in November to reject a tentative agreement arbitrated by the Biden Administration, authorizing a strike that could have begun as early as Dec. 9. To avoid a costly rail service shutdown, NMPF, the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) and allied groups pressed hard for congressional intervention via a series of letters and meetings. Congress passed legislation implementing the tentative agreement, with President Biden signing the law on Dec. 2 and averting a rail shutdown.

The rail efforts, while significant, were only one facet of NMPF’s recent supply chain efforts. NMPF and USDEC on Dec. 13 wrote to Federal Maritime Commission Secretary William Cody with feedback on the agency’s proposed rulemaking on detention and demurrage billing requirements for ocean-bound shipments.

The Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2022, passed in June and championed by NMPF and USDEC, provided an important foundation in confronting abuses leveled by ocean carriers on dairy shippers. However, smart, balanced implementation is still needed to ensure that dairy exporters are fully protected against unfair fees, which cost significant resources to resolve.

In the letter to Secretary Cody, NMPF and USDEC recommended against allowing marine terminal operators to bill shippers directly, which could force shippers to resolve disputes with an unknown party, rather than with carriers – with whom they have an established relationship. NMPF also pushed for the FMC to require additional information on invoices, including how and by when a shipper would need to contest a charge, and to clarify the timeframes for when carriers could issue detention and demurrage charges.

Trade Policy Victories for U.S. Dairy

Shawna Morris HeadshotBy Shawna Morris, Senior Vice President for Trade, NMPF and U.S. Dairy Export Council.

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) are proud to be the voice of defending the American dairy industry and promoting dairy exports in Washington D.C. and around the world. Looking back at this past year of trade policy, American dairy producers and the entire industry have much to be proud of.

U.S. dairy exports are on track for another record year in both value and volume — despite a lack of new market access, protectionist actions in key markets, and ongoing supply chain challenges.

Working with the government to help U.S. dairy thrive

The record export numbers are happening despite high costs and unreliable shipping networks that are still causing headaches for the industry more than two years after the global COVID-19 outbreak first snarled supply chains.

NMPF and USDEC have led the way in working with the U.S. government to address the concerns. In June, President Biden signed the Ocean Shipping Reform Act into law. Championed by NMPF and USDEC, the legislation limits ocean carriers’ ability to deny exports and charge unreasonable fees, clearing a significant hurdle for dairy exporters.

Elsewhere, the EU’s abuse of geographical indication rules continues to threaten U.S. producers’ access to foreign markets for common-name cheeses like “Parmesan” and “Feta.” In collaboration with the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN), NMPF and USDEC have pushed the U.S. government to proactively defend the rights of U.S. cheesemakers and fought the court battles necessary to advance this effort.

That work resulted in a key win last January, when a U.S. District Court ruled in our favor that “Gruyere” cheese can be produced anywhere – not just in France or Switzerland. This landmark victory again proved that common names are widely understood to refer to types of food, regardless of where they are produced.

Holding Canada responsible

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) provided a much-needed update to trade rules. NMPF and USDEC supported it as a deal that would increase exports and boost farm gate milk prices.

Unfortunately, Canada hasn’t held up its end of the bargain. By reserving most of its dairy tariff rate quotas (TRQs) for Canadian processors and directly impairing American exporters’ ability to access the Canadian market, it’s clearly a break of the USMCA’s TRQ provisions that allow market access.

NMPF and USDEC successfully advocated for last year’s initiation of the first-ever USMCA dispute settlement process. The United States won the initial case in January, but upon Canadian refusal to comply with the ruling, NMPF and USDEC prompted the U.S. government to pursue a second dispute panel, resulting in the U.S. seeking formal consultations with Canada in May. The organizations have urged a strong response on behalf of wronged U.S. dairy industry members to ensure that America’s dairy sector receives the full export benefits promised under the agreement.

Strengthening relationships in Latin America

NMPF and USDEC finalized partnerships with the Chilean National Federation of Producers (Fedeleche) and Rural Society of Argentina this year that will advance shared policy priorities internationally. Far more than just agreements on paper, these relationships set a foundation to confront emerging threats, both in key export markets and in international standard-setting bodies to ward off anti-trade and anti-dairy policies.

These examples are just a slice of the trade policy issues that touched the U.S. dairy industry in 2022, but each highlights the great potential of the American dairy industry to grow worldwide and shows the need for the U.S. government to work with us to get there. Looking to 2023 and beyond, NMPF and USDEC are looking forward to ensuring that exports keep growing in volume and in value, supporting the bottom line of dairy farmers, manufacturers, and workers throughout the country.

This column originally appeared in Hoard’s Dairyman Intel on Dec. 26, 2022.

NMPF Calls on Lawmakers to Support Domestic Infant Formula Production

In a letter to lawmakers, the National Milk Producers Federation urged support for domestic infant formula production as the production shortfalls that stripped store shelves of necessary infant formula have eased. Given the improving situation, tariff waivers that could discourage the production of a safe, secure domestic infant formula supply should be allowed to expire at end of this year as scheduled, NMPF said in the letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee.

“Given that the temporary production shortfall that gripped American families in need of formula earlier this year has abated, we urge Congress to ensure that the unique, unilateral tariff benefits granted to our trading partners under the Formula Act and the Bulk Infant Formula to Retail Shelves Act end as scheduled at the close of this year,” said NMPF Chairman and CEO Jim Mulhern in the letter, dated Nov. 17 . “We respectfully request your opposition to any effort to extend these preferential tariff benefits beyond the end of this year.”

A strong, diversely sourced domestic infant formula production industry ensures the highest quality, safest products while supporting rural jobs and domestic producers.

NMPF Active in Resolving Supply Chain Disruptions

NMPF and USDEC ramped up outreach efforts to Congress and the administration last month on the need to improve freight transportation services to prevent significant economic difficulties and ensure that American farmers can continue to feed the world.

In detailed comments to the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) submitted on Sept. 14, NMPF and USDEC asked the agency to declare the current cargo congestion and inadequate oceans freight transportation service an emergency situation.

The comments emphasized results from a survey of NMPF and USDEC members which noted ongoing problems in export shipping despite the implementation of key provisions of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act this summer. For instance, 65 percent of survey respondents indicated that unreasonable detention and demurrage fees continue to be a challenge; more than half have had recent experiences with cancelled sailings; and a massive 92 percent responded that they continue to experience cancelled or rolled vessel bookings.

Based on those survey results and additional reports of logistical issues elsewhere, NMPF and USDEC urged the FMC to require ocean carriers and terminal operators to provide to shippers, rail carriers and other parties advanced scheduling, storage and other information that would greatly improve on-time shipping. The Federation encouraged the FMC to update its metrics for determining emergency situations in the future.

Additionally, ahead of a rail labor agreement reported Sept. 15, NMPF met with the administration and signed onto a Sept. 8 letter to Congressional leadership urging federal action if negotiations failed to prevent a lockout or strike. Ensuring that rail access remains available to deliver input supplies to dairy farms and finished products from plant to port has been a critical NMPF priority over the past few months.

NMPF will continue to press Congress and the administration, as well as private sector actors, to help address the lingering challenges in the dairy export supply chain.

NMPF Board Member Urges Congressional Focus on Agricultural Trade

Sheryl Meshke, co-president and CEO of Associated Milk Producers Inc. and a member of NMPF’s board of directors, told a Senate subcommittee on June 9 that the U.S. government must pursue additional market access opportunities and address export supply-chain delays in order for the U.S. dairy industry to keep up with its global competitors.

“In pursuing exports, the U.S. dairy industry faces experienced and well-established competitors who have been exceptionally active with free trade agreements,” Meshke told the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Commodities, Risk Management, and Trade. “The U.S. needs to get back in the game and craft an approach to pursuing comprehensive trade agreements.”

Meshke also emphasized the importance of enforcing existing trade agreements, particularly U.S. dairy export access to the Canadian market under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

American dairy risks losing its competitiveness, as the global playing field slowly tilts against the United States due to competitors’ trade agreements with key dairy importing markets, Meshke noted in her testimony. She also said U.S. trade negotiators need to target priority markets for expanded access, including Southeast Asia, Japan, China, the Middle East and the United Kingdom.

Meshke also emphasized the importance of combating non-tariff trade barriers, particularly the European Union’s (EU) aggressive efforts to confiscate food and beverage names in global markets by abusing geographical indications systems. She urged a strong defense of common food names: “We can’t wait any longer for the U.S. government to proactively defend the use of common food and beverage names against aggressive global efforts by the EU to restrict the use of generic terms we rely on.”

“As Sheryl outlined so well, we are now seeing dairy consumption grow at exceptional rates in many markets around the world,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF. “The U.S. dairy industry is well-positioned to meet the expanding global demand for sustainably produced dairy products. But to seize those opportunities, we must take a leadership role along with like-minded countries – advancing policies and crafting trade agreements that can deliver real benefits for dairy farmers.”

Dairy Commends Passage of Ocean Shipping Reform Act, Urges Swift Implementation

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) applaud the signing of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act, S. 3580, by President Joe Biden. Following passage of the legislation by the House of Representatives earlier this week by a vote of 369-42, President Biden signed the bill into law today. The enactment of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act sets in motion a series of new rules and regulations regarding ocean carrier practices that the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) must implement over the course of the next year.

The legislation was introduced in response to the vocal advocacy by NMPF, USDEC and other agricultural export and shipper organizations, as problems with effective ocean freight transportation worsened in 2021. Congressmen John Garamendi (D-CA) and Dusty Johnson (R-SD), and Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Thune (R-SD) introduced similar versions of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act in the House and Senate, which both passed speedily through their respective chambers.

“We are grateful to our congressional champions – Congressmen Garamendi and Johnson, and Senators Klobuchar and Thune – for their leadership in getting this legislation drafted, introduced and passed so quickly. The U.S. dairy industry has suffered many challenges in getting goods smoothly and reliably to export markets due in large part to problematic ocean carrier practices. These new rules will allow the FMC to better enforce reasonable behavior by the ocean carriers,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF.

“Our members continue to face significant impacts due to international ocean shipping challenges. Just last year, that resulted in over $1.5 billion in increased export costs and lost opportunities. While we can’t restore those losses, we are very pleased that President Biden and our allies in Congress quickly recognized the urgency of these problems and put their support behind legislative solutions to crack down on unjustified shipping practices,” said Krysta Harden, president and CEO of USDEC. “We urge the FMC to implement these rules quickly and begin to conduct the new oversight, regulation and enforcement necessary to end the unfair and unreasonable ocean cargo practices that have impeded American dairy products from efficiently getting to their overseas customers.”

Both organizations called on the FMC to implement the rules as expeditiously as possible to support agricultural exporters in getting more products onto vessels in order to better address rising food security needs around the world.

NMPF Leads on Supply Chain Issues in White House, USDA, Congressional Engagement

NMPF staff joined USDEC leadership engaging policymakers in meetings at the White House and USDA, as well as with leading members of Congress, in meetings May 12 on export supply chain issues. The group underscored the importance of the pop-up sites USDA launched earlier this year in Oakland and Seattle, and emphasized additional potential remedies, including:

  • Preferential port access for ocean carriers that maximize agricultural export carriage
  • Resuming the weekly Ocean Shipping Container Availability Report
  • 24-hour ag export pop-up sites at inland ports; and
  • Dual-turn facilitation of containers. A dual-turn allows containers delivering imports to an inland location to be provided directly to a nearby export-focused shipper, rather than being returned empty to the coast.

On May 25 USDA announced that it would begin accepting applications for the Commodity Container Assistance Program (CCAP) at the ports of Oakland and Seattle. Under the program, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) is providing a $125 per container payment to assist exporters with the additional logistical expenses associated with picking up empty shipping containers to be filled with agricultural commodities and will also provide payments of $200 per dry container and $400 per refrigerated container to help cover additional logistical costs associated with moving the shipping container.

NMPF touted this additional step to support dairy exports as president and CEO Jim Mulhern noted, “While we continue to seek solutions from the carriers and from Congress, these steps by USDA demonstrate their understanding of our industry’s challenges. We feel they are positive, focused investments that will offer immediate relief to our dairy exporting cooperatives.”

NMPF remains among the most active agricultural industry voices pushing for progress to resolve the export supply chain crisis through a full-spectrum approach, engaging policymakers, driving policy and educating the public.

NMPF also commended a House bill introduced on May 13 by Reps. Angie Craig (D-MN) and Dusty Johnson (R-SD) that would create a dedicated task force within USDA designed to support American agriculture by shoring up the supply chain, increasing government coordination and preventing future issues. The bill unanimously passed the House Agriculture Committee on May 18. The language in this stand-alone bill parallels language in the existing COMPETES Act, now in conference.

Finally, NMPF’s senior vice president of trade policy, Shawna Morris, addressed dairy industry concerns as part of a May 18 webinar, hosted by Hoard’s Dairyman. Shawna focused on NMPF’s policy efforts. The lively and informative panel, which remains available for viewing, included perspectives from the Port of Oakland, a dairy exporter and an expert academic.