Guest Columns

Industry Issues

A lot is at stake in 2012

Connie Tipton

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

We’re two months into 2012, and all signs point to a tough political year complete with continued gridlock in Congress, lots of promises on the campaign trail, and consumers and businesses alike wondering what the future might possibly hold other than more of the same.

It’s also a serious business climate for many in the dairy foods industry. Low margins, high input costs and little room to spare in tighter-than-usual budgets are taking their toll. Of course, that scenario varies depending on specific product lines and market niches, but it certainly applies to a lot of companies in the 2012 marketplace. Our economy, the housing market, jobs (and the opportunity to create new jobs), our customers, building and saving for the future — a lot is at stake this year.

Ongoing media coverage of the presidential debates, caucuses and primaries leaves no doubt that this is an election year. But it’s important to focus equal attention on the fact that Americans also will vote this November on candidates for all seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and roughly a third of the Senate’s 100 seats also are up for grabs. These elections, depending on the majority of winners in the Republican and Democratic parties, will decide who is in charge for both the House and the Senate — at least for the next two years.

The majority matters because the winners get to set the agenda and garner the votes to win on any given issue, depending on the number of legislators in their majority. The leaders in both chambers likely will determine whether we will see a business agenda or a labor agenda, global market opportunities or stagnant domestic markets, a conservative agenda or a liberal agenda — you get the picture. A lot is at stake.

Before we reach the November elections, though, the current Congress still hopes to rewrite farm policies, keeping a keen eye on the September 2012 deadline.

Whether this goal is within practical reach remains to be seen. The divisions in many agri-industry sectors indicate it will be a tough road ahead for legislators to find policy conclusions that will be acceptable to all in such a politically charged and important year.

For dairy, there is broad agreement that our safety net programs for farms are flawed and must be replaced, but consensus on the direction forward remains elusive. This lack of unity is problematic for dairy at a time when we face enormous new global market opportunities mixed with challenges in many domestic markets. For IDFA and its members, the policy direction of continued growth is the easy choice.

Our members have voted to support insurance for dairy farms to avoid catastrophic losses, farm savings accounts and the phasing out of Federal Milk Marketing Order pricing to reduce volatility in milk markets, and risk management tools to help farms and businesses manage market changes. We support these policy initiatives because they will help the industry grow, not only through increased consumption and product innovation here in the United States, but by taking advantage of new and growing export opportunities.

Getting these policy tools right, especially in the next farm bill, is a big deal for dairy’s future ­— again, a lot is at stake.

Fortunately, we live in America where we have the freedoms provided by the First Amendment of our Constitution to express our points of view and to petition our government to try to influence the course of our future. There are lots of ways to be involved:

• By helping to elect members of Congress who share your ideas and ideals

• By meeting with your senators and congressional representative either at home or in Washington, D.C., to let them know your individual concerns and concerns about your business

• By participating with others in the dairy industry who share your views at fundraisers, meetings and other events where members of Congress are present.

IDFA will offer two great occasions for just that type of involvement. Starting early this summer, June 20-21, we’ll have our annual “fly-in” to Washington, D.C., for lobbying visits on Capitol Hill. In the fall, Sept. 19-21, we are planning a unique Policy & Politics Conference, again in Washington, D.C., where food industry professionals will hear from top congressional leaders, Cabinet members, and policy and political leaders about priority issues and the elections that will be just around the corner.

I encourage you to pencil these events in on your calendar because, with broad industry involvement, we truly can make a difference. It’s never been more important ­— a lot is at stake!


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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