On April 3-4, 2017, dairy cooperative leaders from the Upper Midwest flew to Washington D.C., as part of the Midwest Dairy Coalition Day on the Hill to discuss pressing dairy policy concerns with Members of Congress and their staffs. In addition to meeting with House and Senate members from key states in the Upper Midwest, the group also met with the leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees.
The main topics of the MDC conversations with Members of Congress included:
1) The need for reform of the Margin Protection Program to establish a more credible safety net for dairy farmers. The Margin Protection Program (MPP) as originally proposed would have provided a useful safety net for dairy farmers. Unfortunately, the program was diluted significantly during in the last Farm Bill as a result of inaccurate budget projections by Congress. The final outcome was a version of the program that has been very ineffective. The Midwest Dairy Coalition has been advocating for reforms to the MPP to restore it’s original intent, and to make other significant adjustments to provide farmers with a more credible avenue to manage their risk.
Fortunately, Congress is hearing our message. The need for MPP reform has been a top subject during a series of Farm Bill hearings and listening sessions held by the House and Senate Agriculture Committee in preparation for writing the new Farm Bill in 2018. The subject also figured prominently in the recent annual appropriations bill discussions, as the Agriculture Committee leaders sought to address current inadequacies of the Farm Bill. The Midwest Dairy Coalition will continue to make MPP Reform our top priority for the new Farm Bill. We will also continue to push for USDA to create additional dairy insurance mechanisms to provide dairy farmers with greater risk management options.
2) The Dairy PRIDE Act, a bipartisan bill to require FDA to enforce its own rules to prohibit non-dairy beverages from labeling and marketing their products using dairy terms, such as “milk.”
Currently, FDA regulations require products labeled as milk, yogurt, ice cream, or cheese to be produced from dairy animals. Unfortunately, FDA has not enforced their own regulations, which has resulted in many plant or nut-based beverages being inappropriately labeled using dairy terms. Bipartisan legislation, called the Dairy PRIDE act, has been introduced by Senators
Baldwin of Wisconsin and Risch of Idaho in the Senate (S.130), and Congressmen Welch of Vermont, Duffy of Wisconsin, and Simpson of Idaho (H.R. 778) in the House, to require FDA to enforce its own regulations in this regard. The Midwest Dairy Coalition strongly endorses this legislation and has been working to increase the number of cosponsors for the bills.
3) NAFTA Modernization: the need to preserve U.S. dairy exports to Mexico, while also addressing unfair milk pricing policies and trade barriers imposed by Canada.
The Administration has announced intentions to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and preliminary discussions have begun with Mexico and Canada in that process. During the Midwest Dairy Coalition fly in to DC, and in subsequent meetings, we have stressed the need to address unfair Canadian trade barriers and dairy pricing policies that limit
access to U.S. dairy products to the Canadian market, and act as illegal export subsidies that drive down prices to U.S. dairy farmers. In addition, we have stressed the importance of the Mexico market for U.S. dairy farmers, since Mexico is the top export market for U.S. dairy products. Lastly, the MDC has continued to urge Members of Congress and the Administration to fight efforts by the European Union to block the ability of U.S. dairy farmers and manufacturers to use common cheese names, such as parmesan, feta and asiago.
Since the time of our fly in to DC, the Canadian milk pricing issues have become a top priority for Congressional leaders and the President, and the issue has been prominent in the early NAFTA modernization discussions with Canada.
4) Immigration: the importance of foreign-born workers to Upper Midwest dairy farmers, and the need immigration reform policies.
Foreign-born workers are an integral part of the U.S. dairy economy. While border security is important, establishing a clear process for immigrant dairy workers to establish legal status if important. The Midwest Dairy Coalition supports comprehensive immigration reform legislation, but also supports more immediate efforts to:
One interim step endorsed by the Midwest Dairy Coalition is legislation introduced by Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin (H.R. 2087) to reform the current H-2A guest worker program to more adequately address the year-round labor needs of the dairy industry, instead of its current focus on the labor needs of seasonal agriculture sectors alone.