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As Hearing Moves Forward, Dairy’s Path is Becoming Clearer

Arlington, VA | USDA’s Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) hearing is well underway, and thus far its progress is much as expected. With NMPF’s proposed modernization plan serving as its bedrock, the topics under discussion very much reflect the areas we identified as key areas of improvement to FMMOs. At the same time, cross-examination and counter-proposals from other parties have been thorough, and at times, off-base.

Unsurprisingly, those questions and perspectives reflect the vested interests of the questioners, with changes often presented as zero-sum games in which the questioner’s ideas and opinions just-so-happen to benefit its bottom line. Our position at NMPF is a little different. We recognize that any proposal USDA puts up to a producer vote will need to meet a balance of interests, as admittedly, some regions, sizes or business models may benefit more than others depending on the issue. That’s a simple fact of reality in the world of policy progress. In that sense, we’re not always arguing specifically for the benefit of one party – we’re defending the consensus we’ve crafted that provides the greatest benefit to the industry as a whole, dairy farmers, processors, and consumers alike, because that’s the only approach that will bring the lasting improvements for the entire dairy industry.

This is why we at NMPF can’t help but smile a bit when we hear someone bring up an idea that we considered – and discarded – as far back as two years ago, when we began holding more than 200 meetings among farmers, cooperative analysts and industry-leading economists that generated our comprehensive improvement plan. We’ve literally been there and done that. But interested parties must have their say, and differing proposals can be brought before USDA – and in fact, they should be, so as to serve the important interests of transparency and continued consensus.

This is where all those meetings, and the thorough preparation our cooperative-led team has made for this generational opportunity for improvement, reaps dividends. We’ve faced tough questions. We’ve developed industry-leading analysis. We’ve even “war-roomed” the hearing process itself, meeting to discuss anticipated critiques of our proposal and preparing authoritative responses. Our approach is exhaustive, but never exhausting, because we’ve always kept our eyes focused on the ultimate goal of a modernized, fairer, more robust system of milk pricing for dairy farmers. And with each step toward that goal, we feel we’re only gaining more momentum – one that in the end will benefit everyone, even those who, at this moment, are offering alternatives aimed at simply boosting their narrower self-interests.

Leadership isn’t easy. As this is being published, we still have several weeks of proposals to wade through, after which further discussion and USDA consideration begins. But thus far we’re gratified that our leadership on this issue has taken dairy thus far. We set out to modernize the system. We worked with USDA, which decided it was time to examine that modernization. Now we’re explaining and justifying our proposals, with dairy’s brightest and most articulate analysts, economists and farmers testifying to the value of what we painstakingly crafted and impressing upon all of agriculture just how seriously we’ve taken this mission. We look forward to showing why our comprehensive proposal – the unanimous choice of dairy cooperatives that produce more than two-thirds of the nation’s milk -- is the best approach for dairy’s future.

This occasion is incredibly important, and we’re rising to it. We look forward to continued progress.


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