Guest Columns

Industry Issues

Getting along, but getting it right

Connie Tipton

Connie Tipton is president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association. She contributes this column exclusively for Cheese Market News®.

Last month Jerry Kozak of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) wrote about the need for industry cooperation, and he’s right; working together is essential in today’s world.

In fact, someone once said, “If you want to be incrementally better, be competitive. If you want to be exponentially better, be cooperative.” I agree with that approach. And, as Jerry pointed out, there are many areas where IDFA and NMPF have worked cooperatively for good results. There’s no doubt about it: Together we are stronger and more effective, particularly in working with government and Congress, where they have the upper hand.

Certainly “The Great Depression of 2009” that hit our dairy producer community was a wake-up call to our entire industry. Now more than ever, we need to work together to make sure we have the policies and tools necessary to manage our way through price swings and market volatility so that survival is not in question. We definitely need each other for individual as well as collective success.

I applaud Jerry and NMPF for developing a plan of action on dairy policy changes that they can take to Congress when legislators begin the 2012 Farm Bill debate next year; I’m happy to report that IDFA members are in agreement with much of that plan, and we look forward to working with them to bring about necessary changes for our collective good. In fact, I’m quite optimistic about the future of the dairy industry. This is the first time ever that we’ve been this close to finding a package of reforms that can actually work for the industry and help us get to our collective goal of sustainable market growth.

As we look to the upcoming Farm Bill negotiations, it’s clear that many ideas will be on the table for ongoing debate and discussion. But, in the end, we all know that it is the members of Congress who will determine the final details of future dairy policy.

The stakes in this political process are high, and results that will make our industry stronger are critical. That’s why it’s so important to begin the debate with a firm grasp of the principles that will guide us to the right results.

Jimmy Carter once said, “We must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles.” I agree with that statement and believe it to be true for our path forward on dairy policy.

So we will enter the discussion and debate on Capitol Hill with our principles for dairy policy well in mind.

While working on policies in the 2008 Farm Bill, IDFA and its members agreed to a set of principles for a 21st century dairy policy, and those principles remain unchanged today. We steadfastly believe that:

• Dairy policies and programs should provide an effective dairy farm safety net based on farm income or milk margin;

• Dairy policies and programs should have a competitive orientation focused on fostering innovation and growth;

• Dairy policies and programs should be consistent with enhancing demand rather than controlling prices and supply; and

• Dairy policies and programs should be supportive of trade expansion.

Perhaps this quote from Abraham Lincoln says it best: “Important principles may, and must, be inflexible.” Policies may change, but principles never do, and they certainly provide an excellent frame of reference for evaluating the policies.

So, as we begin to make the case for and against policy proposals being debated as part of the next Farm Bill, IDFA and its members will continue to push for changes that are based squarely on our principles. The process will span the next 18 to 24 months, and we expect that there will be many competing ideas. It has been said that whenever two good people argue over principles, they are both right. And certainly there are members of Congress and others who hold different principles than those IDFA has articulated.

But out of this months-long discussion and debate a new Farm Bill will arise. There most certainly will be areas of compromise as the final deals are struck, but our entire industry will have to live according to the resulting new law, so much is at stake.

We look forward to a cooperative approach to developing the policies that will form the new Farm Bill, but more important than getting along is getting it right; that goal is the most important for us all.


The views expressed by CMN’s guest columnists are their own opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of Cheese Market News®.

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