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CEO's Corner:

Thank You for All You Do.

December 5, 2023

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