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Dairy Forum and Farm Bill — What’s next?

Connie Tipton

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

What only weeks ago was a new year is now steaming ahead full speed with successes already under our belts on both the Dairy Forum and Farm Bill.

Attendance at Dairy Forum has doubled in the last 10 years. The January 2014 meeting had record attendance of more than a thousand and was hailed as the “best ever” by many attendees. And after three years of working toward enactment of new dairy policy that will provide an underpinning for dairy farms without imposing periodic supply controls, Congress passed a bill that was signed into law earlier this month. None of this would have been possible without the work of many talented people on the staff and in the membership of the International Dairy Foods Association as well as many allied organizations. Thanks to all.

Now with most of 2014 still ahead of us, what’s next? Being based in our nation’s capital, we are painfully aware that this is another election year. All members of the House of Representatives stand for election every two years, while roughly one-third of the Senate faces election every two years (senators have six-year terms).

House Republicans are protecting a 17-seat majority, and pundits predict they are likely to maintain that majority with a preponderance of seats that aren’t really competitive because of redistricting to make many seats “safe.” In the Senate, Republicans stand their best chance of regaining a majority this year since the Democrats have more seats up for grabs. But the Republicans will need to win six more seats to take the majority, and that could be tough depending on what happens between now and then.

Where there are opportunities, both sides are already pumping in the money. Be sure you get involved — we need good, pro-business candidates serving in Congress in order to get our nation’s economy back on track.

The issues facing the dairy industry are already stacking up, and it will take a unified U.S. dairy industry to make sure we get the best outcomes.

High on our agenda will be getting the ball rolling toward reform of our extremely outdated federal milk pricing system. Put on the books in 1937, the federal milk marketing orders are way out of step with our markets.

Everyone is now competing for farm milk in a global market, whether or not the products they make are destined for that global market. But under this complex regulatory scheme, fluid milk is being priced off of the Class III or Class IV price, whichever is higher, and those prices are now largely driven directly by export demand.

This complicated regulatory structure no longer makes sense — there is no reason to link fluid milk to Class III or Class IV. But the reality is that without the regulatory pricing scheme, fluid plants will still have to compete for farm milk with products that may be in higher demand. Markets should be the driver for where farm milk moves, just as they are for what products are in demand. To state the obvious, both domestic and global consumers have lots of choices, and the dairy industry really needs to come together to find some workable solutions on this one. It’s extremely important for our future.

2014 is also the year that the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is doing its work to revise and update the U.S. government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans due to go into effect next year. A couple of public meetings have already taken place, giving interested parties the opportunity to comment. IDFA and several other dairy organizations have been there defending dairy’s important role in the diet, but the anti-dairy folks have showed up, too. This is definitely another area where the dairy industry needs to be in lock-step. New, updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans will be published in 2015, and they will guide federal feeding programs and food purchases for the future, so the impact could be substantial.

Food safety regulations are all in the works, and regulators are ready to step up their scrutiny of farms and plants, so industry must be ready. We are busy providing input to the government on how these regulations will work best for the industry and to achieve desired food safety outcomes. Food safety training courses are being offered on a regular basis as a collaborative effort of the Innovation Center for dairy and industry partners, so take advantage of these opportunities.

On the global front, trade agreements are being negotiated, putting a spotlight on the threat to common cheese names posed by the European Union. The EU wants to claw back the use of food names that the United States and many other countries recognize as generic. We hope recent high-level meetings between dairy leaders and the government will bring greater focus to just how important this issue is to the U.S. cheese industry.

Immigration reform is needed by our sector as well, but little chance of real progress seems to exist in this election year. The White House and Republicans in the House of Representatives have little trust of one another, making meaningful negotiations likely to be impossible, at least until the next Congress arrives.

All of these issues and more require our collective attention and involvement for successful results. Be sure you are on top of what lies ahead and are doing your part to keep dairy strong.

CMN

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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