NMPF Co-op Member Champions DMC, Calls for FMMO Update at Dairy Hearing

Seventh-generation Pennsylvania dairy farmer Lolly Lesher emphasized the importance of farm bill safety net programs and called for milk pricing improvements at a House Agriculture Committee hearing held on June 22 to review the dairy provisions of the farm bill.

The Farm Bill, a twice-a-decade reauthorization of USDA programs, includes provisions important to dairy farmers such as risk management, pricing policy and support, conservation, trade promotion, nutrition, and rural development programs.

The Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program is a significant improvement over its predecessor and has been a strong safety net for dairy farmers during difficult times. It offers producers affordable coverage for margin levels that reflect the milk price and feed cost challenges they face,” Lesher said in her testimony.

Lesher, a member-owner of Dairy Farmers of America, testified on NMPF’s behalf. She thanked Ranking Member G.T. Thompson (R-PA) for his years of advocacy on behalf of dairy farmers in Pennsylvania and beyond, and for his key role in overhauling the dairy safety net during the last farm bill. She also expressed her gratitude to Chairman David Scott (D-GA) for his work and for convening the hearing.

Created to replace the previous Margin Protection Program at NMPF’s urging in the 2018 Farm Bill, USDA’s Dairy Margin Coverage program offers effective margin protection for small and mid-sized farms and affordable catastrophic coverage for large farms. Lesher, whose family milks 240 cows in southeastern Pennsylvania, said in her written testimony that the program “has provided important security to [her] family’s farm” and noted that her family has purchased the maximum available coverage every year.

She also urged the committee to make additional updates to reflect current production. Congress enacted Supplemental Dairy Margin coverage payments to account for modest production increases since 2014, and Lesher urged the committee to build on this progress in the next farm bill.

Lesher highlighted the need for improvements to the Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) system, citing the heavy revenue losses incurred by dairy farmers nationwide from a milk pricing change made in the previous farm bill as an example of the need for change.

“The change made to the Class I mover combined with the government’s heavy cheese purchases cost dairy farmers over $750 million in revenue in the last six months of 2020 alone,” she said. Lesher detailed the asymmetric risk that farmers bear under the current mover, with limited upside risk and a potentially limitless downside.

Meanwhile, NMPF is leading a nationwide effort to craft consensus on a wide range of FMMO improvements, including the Class I mover, that can be taken to USDA for consideration in a federal order hearing. “We recognize that for our efforts to succeed, we must all work together, giving a bit to get a bit. It’s just too important for our future,” Lesher added.

“We appreciate the opportunity to share what has worked well—and what needs to be modernized—to meet the needs of dairy farmers in the 2023 Farm Bill,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF.  “As Lolly Lesher outlined during today’s hearing, dairy producers need continued access to an effective safety net, flexible risk management tools that protect all farmers, and an update to the FMMO system that addresses the unequal risk dairy farmers bear compared to processors during unusual market volatility. We look forward to our continued work with the House Agriculture Committee and USDA on these and other farm bill priorities in the coming months.”