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USDA Moves Forward on NMPF-Led Dairy Donation Program, Adds Dairy Purchases

May 4, 2021

NMPF lauded USDA’s April 13 announcement that it will soon implement the $400 million Dairy Donation Program (DDP) that NMPF secured in a COVID-19 relief package Congress passed last December. The department issued an advance notice of the minimum provisions to be included in the program, including the initial reimbursement rate for dairy product donations, which will cover at a minimum the full cost of the raw milk and therefore be significantly higher than under the existing Milk Donation Reimbursement Program created in the 2018 Farm Bill.

The announcement is especially crucial because it comes at a time when the spring flush is building across the U.S. and is meant to “encourage the dairy industry to process and donate surplus milk supplies during the spring surplus milk production season,” according to USDA. This aligns with the intent of Congress to allow USDA to make retroactive reimbursements for donations made before final program regulations are announced later this year.

“NMPF worked closely with Congress to enact the Dairy Donation Program in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. This important program will help dairy farmers and the cooperatives they own to continue to do what they do best – feed people,” said Jim Mulhern, NMPF president and CEO, in a statement commending the USDA announcement. “Dairy stakeholders are eager to expand their partnership efforts with food banks and other distributors to provide a variety of nutritious dairy products to food-insecure households who have faced uniquely difficult challenges throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as hunger has risen significantly during the last year.

“We commend USDA for prioritizing implementation of the DDP and look forward to continue working with the Department, the food bank community and all involved to make the program a success,” Mulhern said.

NMPF will continue to work closely with USDA and other interested stakeholders as the department works to finalize the program’s complete parameters. In particular, recognizing that processing and other expenses can significantly raise the cost of donating dairy products, NMPF is urging USDA to reimburse for these additional costs in order to make the DDP as effective as possible.

Beyond the DDP, NMPF looks forward to working with USDA on buying more of a wider variety of dairy products. Along with the department’s expected announcement that the Farmers to Families Food Box Program will end this month, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has indicated that USDA will continue to purchase dairy and other products through a variety of channels, such as Section 32 and The Emergency Food Assistance Program. NMPF is urging continued robust purchases of dairy products, with an emphasis on securing a better product balance between cheese and butter, to avoid the extreme market volatility that dairy farmers endured last year.