Economists Confident in NMPF Milk-Pricing Plan

The briefs are in, and now it’s up to USDA to consider the arguments and craft a proposed modernization for Federal Milk Marketing Orders, which govern milk pricing. NMPF economists Peter Vitaliano and Stephen Cain said they’re confident in the strength of NMPF’s proposals in a Dairy Defined Podcast released today.

“If you were to read through our brief, I think you’d be struck by the fact that it is an integrated, well-reasoned, constructive proposal for doing some long overdue maintenance on the federal order program to position it for many more years of effective operation,” said Vitaliano, vice president for economic policy and market research at NMPF. “We’re very confident that when we see what USDA comes up with in a recommended decision in early July, we’re very confident that we’ve made a good enough case, that a lot of it will be adopted.”

More on NMPF’s federal order efforts can be found on The Dairy Defined podcast, you can find and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify under the podcast name “Dairy Defined.”

NMPF FMMO Modernization Comments Put Farmers First

NMPF, the largest U.S. dairy-farmer organization and the industry’s premier policy voice in Washington, submitted its final, formal legal “brief” on their behalf for Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) modernization to the USDA on March 29.

The NMPF brief emphasized that those farmers are the reason the system exists — and that, by law, their priorities are pre-eminent in USDA consideration of a final plan.

“Our proposed package of proposals to the Federal Milk Marketing Order align perfectly with its mission and purpose, which were designed and intended to put farmers first,” said Gregg Doud, president and CEO of NMPF. “We’ve spent nearly three years painstakingly assembling the broad consensus among dairy farmers that modernization of the system needs to succeed. Our approach is careful and comprehensive, and it benefits farmers of all regions and types of operations.”

NMPF’s proposals include:

  • Returning to the “higher of” Class I mover;
  • Discontinuing the use of barrel cheese in the protein component price formula;
  • Extending the current 30-day reporting limit to 45 days on forward priced sales on nonfat dry milk and dry whey to capture more exports sales in the USDA product price reporting;
  • Updating milk component factors for protein, other solids and nonfat solids in the Class III and Class IV skim milk price formulas;
  • Developing a process to ensure make-allowances are reviewed more frequently through legislation directing USDA to conduct mandatory plant-cost studies every two years;
  • Updating dairy product manufacturing allowances contained in the USDA milk price formulas; and
  • Updating the Class I differential price system to reflect changes in the cost of delivering bulk milk to fluid processing plants.

In contrast to proposals driven by narrow self-interest, NMPF’s package of proposals reflect its broad-based membership and consensus-driven approach, which resulted in unanimous approval from its Board of Directors last year. With that unity unbroken, Doud said he looked forward to USDA’s consideration of NMPF’s solid hearing record which was built along with its recently submitted brief, as well as the department’s recommended decision expected at the beginning of July.

“NMPF has taken seriously its role as the policy leader for U.S. dairy farmers and the cooperatives they own, and we continue to draw on the strength of our members,” he said. “Today we’ve taken another big step toward modernization. We continue to look forward to its successful conclusion.”

NMPF’s Galen Discusses NMPF’s Federal Order Modernization Efforts

Chris Galen, NMPF’s senior vice president of membership services and strategic initiatives, discusses NMPF’s Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) modernization efforts. Dairy experts and government officials are gathered in Carmel, IN, for what’s expected to be five to seven weeks of testimony and discussion of proposals to update and improve the FMMO system, which last saw a major revision in 2000. Following USDA’s initial presentations, the hearing will then launch into discussions of specific issues placed within the scope of the hearing, including; milk composition; surveyed commodity products; Class III and Class IV formula factors; the Base Class I skim milk price; and Class I and Class II price differentials.

FMMO Hearing Heralds Farmer-Led Progress for Dairy, NMPF Says

The first day of USDA’s once-in-a-generation hearing on federal milk pricing represents a critical moment for dairy’s future, one in which the National Milk Producers Federation intends to lead, President and CEO Jim Mulhern said today.

“Thanks to the tireless efforts of dairy farmers and their cooperatives, this industry is poised for progress as Federal Milk Marketing Order modernization is now in sight,” Mulhern said, as dairy experts and government officials gathered in Carmel, IN, for what’s expected to be five to seven weeks of testimony and discussion of proposals to update and improve the FMMO system, which last saw a major revision in 2000. “NMPF’s comprehensive proposal for improvements to the system forms the basis of this hearing, and through our members’ depth of expertise and unmatched team of dairy farmers and cooperative analysts, we are prepared to advance our industry’s need for these updates.”

Following USDA’s initial presentations, the hearing will then launch into discussions of specific issues placed within the scope of the hearing, including; milk composition; surveyed commodity products; Class III and Class IV formula factors; the Base Class I skim milk price; and Class I and Class II price differentials.

After the hearing’s conclusion, entities involved in the hearing then have a period of time to respond to the testimony, followed by a USDA draft decision, then more discussion, and ultimately a vote among dairy farmers on a final proposal, likely in the second half of 2024.

Because of the hearing’s complexity and the multi-step process of formulating and approving a final plan afterward, Mulhern noted that the hearing itself is far from the culmination of the process. Still, as the centerpiece of milk-pricing efforts, the next few weeks will be the most intense for public discussion of how to create a better milk-price system for dairy farmers – a moment NMPF has spent literally years waiting for.

“Though far from the final word, this national hearing stage is a critical phase that starts a foreseeable timeline for a new system to become real,” Mulhern said. “That’s exciting for our industry. It took a long time, and incredible effort, to get to where we are today. With the leadership I know our member cooperatives will provide, it can only lead to a brighter tomorrow.”

Co-ops Lead in Developing Milk-Pricing Consensus

It would seem daunting that the highly diverse dairy community, which ranges from small, 20 cow farms to 20,000+ animal operations using state-of-the-art equipment for everything from housing to enhanced sustainability, would be able to reach a unanimous consensus on a comprehensive proposal to modernize milk pricing, which is both incredibly important and incredibly complicated for each of those farms.

But dairy farmers, as represented by the members of NMPF, have a mechanism that allows the industry to tackle complex issues and work on solutions that can make improvements for all: the cooperative. And after two years and more than 150 meetings on milk marketing orders, that structure again is proving essential to industry progress.

Even after decades of consolidation and increasingly sophisticated operations, the co-op remains the heart and soul of dairy. Cooperatives handle 85 percent of U.S. milk, produced on farms that are 97 percent family owned. By providing technical and risk-management support, economic expertise and most importantly, a guaranteed buyer for a perishable product, co-ops meet dairy needs – including the need to reach agreement on all-encompassing issues such Federal Milk Marketing Order modernization. Working together for mutual self-help is the cooperative spirit. It’s the engine that makes dairy move.

Though not every dairy cooperative is an NMPF member (although they should be, if they want to be engaged in building industry positions on critical issues such as FMMO modernization), the strength of its membership covers two-thirds of the U.S. milk supply –which enables us to solidly speak for dairy farmers in federal policy debates. That’s why NMPF became the natural place to craft an FMMO modernization proposal. Top economists and analysts from member cooperatives talked with the farmer-leaders of NMPF co-ops nationwide, arriving at solutions to thorny problems that respected the interests of all and, in total, achieves mutual benefits.

The result is the plan NMPF submitted to USDA last week. That’s how things should be done – and that’s how things will continue to be done as the Agriculture Department considers the plan and, assuming successful consideration, a federal order hearing takes place.

Not every dairy farmer is a co-op member, of course, and the industry includes other parts of the supply chain that have an interest in FMMO issues. That’s obvious, and the farmer-led plan NMPF has submitted wouldn’t have been as well-considered – and certainly not as likely to succeed – without the input and support from stakeholders across dairy.

But in the end, the vehicle driving the first major FMMO update in nearly a quarter-century is the farmer-owned cooperative. Co-ops are where the ideas come from, and where the initiative to realize those ideas come from as well. As the federal-order process continues, each will be important to success. Fortunately, supplies of both are ample.

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