Thank You for All You Do.

Throughout my career, whether I was working on Capitol Hill or consulting for Fortune 500 companies, I found myself returning, in various ways, to dairy. And it was always because of the people.

Those who produce our food literally make life possible for all of us. But there’s something special about this dairy community. I’ve long felt dairy’s uniqueness is in its daily harvest – the ability to see in real time the fruits of your labor reflected in the health of your animals and the quality and quantity of milk they produce.  It gives dairy a different character than other agricultural operations, producing people committed to nourishing our bodies with nutrient-rich milk and dairy products harvested through work that is hard and honest, and never lacking in integrity.

That’s what I will miss after more than four decades working in and near dairy. And that’s why the most important words I’ve been saying as I approach my final weeks at NMPF are “thank you” — to everyone from NMPF Chairman Randy Mooney and the many dairy-industry leaders who I’ve been fortunate to work with, to the farmers and staff who have supported and advanced our important work at NMPF.

And I also need to say, “I’m proud of this industry” for all the successes we’ve seen, and for how that success will help position everyone who cares about dairy for further gains to come – from the farmers and cooperatives I have represented to the entire industry.

I’ve had the opportunity to be part of nearly every major dairy policy debate since the early 1980s – from the establishment of the national dairy checkoff program in 1983, the very first dairy issue I worked on Capitol Hill, to the USDA Federal Milk Marketing Order modernization effort currently under way.

No achievements are ever static: The checkoff has become an incredibly vital instrument for our industry, and it continues to evolve, showing strong leadership in critical areas. Our Federal Order system is evolving as well – for the better, I predict, after our modernization proposal becomes the basis for a comprehensive USDA plan next year. The changes we are advocating, if approved, will strengthen the program’s ability to aid producers and improve orderly marketing of milk. And that change will happen because of the leadership, engagement, and hard work of all of NMPF’s dairy cooperative members.

Other examples of which we should all be proud – and confident in our future success – includes our sustainability journey. We recognized the climate issue as a looming challenge more than 15 years ago. We knew that our opponents would try to position dairy as part of the problem. But we vowed to be part of the solution. I was fortunate to be involved in those early efforts as the checkoff program engaged key stakeholders, conducted a carbon Life Cycle Assessment of fluid milk – the first-ever on a U.S. agricultural product – and helped develop the science to establish our industry’s baseline.

From there, we have identified numerous opportunities for dairy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to climate improvements. NMPF has focused on programs and policies that provide voluntary incentives to assist farmers in these improvements and prevent onerous, costly regulations. We are seeing the fruits of these efforts, as federal programs are beginning to provide funding to enable on-farm technologies to mitigate emissions and help facilitate our U.S. dairy industry goal to be Net Zero by 2050. There is much yet to be done, but with the right policies and approaches I am fully confident we will achieve our goal even before then.

I am also proud of our work in the economic policy arena to help producers of all sizes deal with the volatility inherent in commodity milk prices. The Dairy Margin Coverage program provides protection without stimulating increased milk production, and we have helped develop better and more effective risk management tools for larger farms through the USDA-supported Dairy Revenue Protection and LGM-Dairy programs. Collectively, these efforts provide the most comprehensive federal risk management suite our industry has ever had.

There are so many other issues I could talk about where we’ve made great progress, and a few – like immigration reform to help address our ag labor problem – where success remains elusive.

Despite these challenges, I know that the future of this industry is very bright. And that’s because of what I may be most proud of – how our industry works together to advance common goals.

By proactively engaging with a host of stakeholders – policymakers, customers, proprietary processors, consumer and public health groups, other agricultural organizations and even potential critics – we endeavor to advance our collective interests. I’m proud of the countless times we have engaged critical debates from a position of unity and strength.

When I accepted the role of NMPF president and CEO, I told the organization’s Board that my goal was simple: to strengthen the dairy cooperative and dairy producer community and help build a brighter future. Any success I’ve had has been because of great people – on the farm, in our marketing and processing operations, and in the policy and promotion organizations.

We produce a great product with a demand that’s growing both domestically and internationally. We have the most efficient, productive, resilient and sustainable dairy industry in the world. And it’s because of what you have done. Our industry is stronger because of our work together – and, under the leadership of my successor, Gregg Doud, our work is poised for greater success, as U.S. dairy remains a critical part of the American diet, and increasingly, the world’s.

My career journey has exceeded the wildest dreams of what I thought might be accomplished when I started in it many years ago. I’m proud of what we have accomplished together and gratified by the opportunity I’ve had to work with so many great people.

Thank you again, and Godspeed.

Jim Mulhern

President & CEO, NMPF


NMPF’s Mooney Highlights Dairy’s Persistent Strength at Annual Meeting

National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) Chairman Randy Mooney commended U.S. dairy farmers for their persistence in supporting positive change for their industry at the organization’s annual meeting in Orlando, noting that challenges are nothing new to producers and that their unity has brought progress in encouraging better federal farm policy.

“We’re nourishing families around the world through milk’s unbeatable nutritional value,” said Mooney in remarks at the meeting, which is held jointly by NMPF, the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board and the United Dairy Industry Association. “I’ve dairied 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,” said Mooney, a Dairy Farmers of America member-owner who farms near Rogersville, MO.

Dairy producers in the past year have faced operating margins at their lowest since the federal dairy safety net was adopted in its current structure in 2014 as prices plummeted from record highs. Meanwhile, the U.S. farm bill has expired, and dairy farmers are seeking a fairer milk pricing system through a USDA-led Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) hearing, which began in August and will resume Nov. 27 after a temporary pause.

Following Mooney onstage was NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern, who is retiring at the end of this year after leading the organization for a decade. In his remarks, Mulhern reflected on the challenges dairy farmers have met and how they will meet the challenges to come.

“I’ve tried to remain true to what I see as the hallmark of the dairy community: people who work hard, approach things with common sense, care passionately about the product they produce,” Mulhern said. “You all strive to do the right thing. And I can tell you, looking over the course of my career, those are qualities that can take you a very long way.”

Also at the meeting, NMPF’s Board of Directors approved the organization’s policy positions and elected new members. New directors elected to the Board of Directors and approved by NMPF delegates include Brad Bateman of Dairy Farmers of America and Rick Burkhamer of Foremost Farms. Burkhamer, who farms near Richland Center, WI, was also named to NMPF’s Executive Committee.

Along with adopting official federal policy positions, NMPF’s membership also raised funds for the organization’s college research scholarships and held its annual cheese and dairy product contest in conjunction with the meeting.

The Chairman’s Award for the NMPF Cheese and Yogurt Contest went to Prairie Farms Dairy for its Cave Aged Rinded Swiss, produced in Faribault, MN. Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery won the Chairman’s Reserve Award for its Pepperoni with Marinara Rub produced in Menomonie, WI. This year’s contest included 252 entries from 14 participating NMPF co-ops, a total of 3,350 pounds (1.52 metric tons) of cheese and yogurt.

NMPF’s official portion of the meeting concludes tomorrow. Highlights include a dairy economics forecast by NMPF staff; awards in the organization’s annual dairy contest; and an address by incoming President and CEO Gregg Doud, who takes over from Mulhern Jan. 1.

In The “Eye of The Storm,” Dairy Farmers Stand Strong

Next week, dairy farmers from across the nation are gathering in Orlando, FL, for NMPF’s annual meeting, with no shortage of important items to discuss.

  • America is currently without a farm bill — a circumstance that’s not unheard-of given the usual lapses in legislation, but one that inevitably raises uncertainty and questions of strategy.
  • USDA’s Federal Milk Marketing Order hearing is in a temporary pause before resuming Nov. 27. Thanks to years of painstaking preparation and an unshakable consensus among our members, we at NMPF feel very good about our hearing proposals. But the hearing’s final major issue, the Class I price surface, is still under consideration. And even after the hearing concludes, several steps remain before a successful producer vote will take place, likely late next year, on a USDA plan we hope will be largely modeled on our own.
  • The dairy economy continues to be challenging. Prices and margins are now rising, but only after producers experienced their lowest margins since the current USDA safety-net system began. Meanwhile, dairy producers continue to experience bad-faith attacks from outside activists over their animal care stewardship, environmental and climate leadership, and workforce management. And exports continue to suffer because of unfair trade policies. And so on.

So, while our conversations will be cordial and collegial, in the cooperative spirit that defines our industry, our challenges are real. And, as usual, we will meet those challenges.

  • On the farm bill, we have crafted board-approved positions that will both preserve the safety net successfully established in the now expired 2018 law while improving meaningful risk management for farms of all sizes, in all regions, while positioning our industry to utilize financial incentives that support our Net Zero Initiative. Dairy farmers are speaking with one voice on these issues, which is always when we are most effective. And the relationships we’ve built on both sides of the aisle allow us to move ahead with confidence.
  • On FMMO, I can’t speak enough about how our comprehensive, farmer co-op-led approach to modernization has impressed the logic and necessity of our plan upon USDA. Through weeks of testimony and dozens of dairy farmer and cooperative expert witnesses, the intellectual rigor and on-farm passion has made a compelling case for our plan – which should carry significant influence with USDA in developing a final proposal. There isn’t enough space in this column to thank everyone who deserves our gratitude, and the honor roll will only grow as we continue to move this process forward.
  • On other issues, some shorter-term and others longer, we have our own record of resilience on which to fall back. When the economy stalls, we innovate, adjust, survive, and thrive. When our naysayers proclaim the “Death of Dairy,” we’re the ones who show life, fighting those messages with the most compelling counter we have – the truth. And we continue to show the world just how compelling and critical our products are, building global market share and our reputation for global leadership, as we did at last month’s successful International Dairy Federation World Dairy Summit in Chicago.

From one perspective, given the moment during which we’re meeting, it could be said that we’re gathering during the eye of a storm – not a bad metaphor for a meeting in Florida. But really, I think of it more like the moment before a dawn, when the new day is about to reveal itself and you’re ready to take it on. We never lack for challenges in dairy, and we never lack for solutions. In Orlando, we’re ready to convene. And nationwide, as always, we’re ready to lead.

Jim Mulhern

President & CEO, NMPF


See You in Indiana!

Indianapolis, Indiana may be best known for its famous road race. And though our journey toward Federal Milk Marketing Order modernization may at times feel like it’s already taken 500 miles, in reality the critical stretch begins this month with the hearing USDA is granting, beginning Aug. 23.

Our engines are revving, we have an expert pit crew in place, and with the turbocharge of support we’ve received from our members and across the dairy producer community, we’re confident we’re in pole position and determined to take the checkered flag.

OK, enough with the auto-race metaphors. The point is, we’re ready. This is an exciting moment for the future of our industry – and exciting moments are difficult to achieve at a time of low producer margins – with high input costs and poor milk prices.

But even as today holds challenges, we can achieve a better tomorrow through FMMO modernization, which is, and always has been, an attempt to update milk pricing to current needs, reduce economic distortions, encourage orderly markets and put dairy producers on firmer, fairer ground as they provide high-quality products consumers want. This once-in-a-generation opportunity has come from the leadership of dairy farmers and the cooperatives they own, who together have assembled a deep, truly comprehensive case for modernization and how it can be done, one that embraces all regions, sizes and business models found in the diverse dairy sector.

That work has already paid off through the scope of the hearing itself. The proposal we sent to USDA in May is the basis from which the department is proceeding. And while we look forward to the discussion and examination of other proposals, in the end we feel confident we’re in the driver’s seat of change. (Sorry. Another auto-race analogy.) We will be involved in the full range of proceedings with a cast of experts who will assist us in our case during the hearing, which is expected to last 6-8 weeks.

And once that is done, it will be time for USDA to consider all the testimony, as we prepare to advocate for what we hope (and expect) will be a producer vote on a plan next year.

This has been a long process, but one that’s critical to dairy’s future. For more information on our proposal, please visit our FMMO page here. We also plan to offer regular updates on the process itself,  so stay tuned – and keep your engines revving.

Also, even as FMMO consumes much of our focus, we’re moving ahead in another area that’s important to the future of dairy farming and consumer support for true dairy products: The fight against lab-based imposters that are adopting the plant-based playbook and sow marketplace confusion over what “milk” actually is.

Following on a letter we sent in late June, we’re urging FDA to take action to stop the “Bored Cow” brand peddled by a New York City-based foodtech company as “animal-free dairy milk” from illegally calling their product “milk.”

Unlike with plant-based beverages that have no dairy ingredients, Bored Cow includes one synthetically produced whey protein. But as every responsible scientist, marketer – and regulator – knows, one protein doesn’t make it “milk,” a biological product that is a complex interaction of literally hundreds of components, the qualities and characteristics of which we frankly don’t fully understand.

FDA, and the food industry as a whole, will need to get away from simplistic and convenient ideas that “equivalency” can be manufactured in a lab when a dairy product – and other animal products as well – are the result of thousands of years of natural development. Should FDA choose not to enforce its own rules in a timely manner, we will escalate our fight – and hope you can join us as this initiative develops.

Our industry is dynamic and complex, with ever-changing challenges. In both FMMO modernization and lab-based “dairy,” we’re trying to meet both the nearer and longer-term needs of dairy farmers. That’s what keeps us all moving forward. And with that, on to Indiana!



Jim Mulhern

President & CEO, NMPF