Does the Dairy Industry Want To Watch Congress Fix Its Problems

“Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.” Otto von Bismarck

National Milk Producers Federation (“NMPF”) is readying its comprehensive dairy reform package, “Foundation for the Future” (“FFTF”). NMPF has established a website, www.futurefordairy.com, explaining the entire program. In short, FFTF contains four components. The first would eliminate the two key dairy safety net programs, the Milk Income Loss Payment (“MILC”) program and the Dairy Product Price Support Program (“DPPSP”). The second would establish a margin guarantee program for dairy farmers to protect against the devastating combination of low prices and high production costs. The third would create a supply management program aimed at cutting oversupply of milk. And the fourth would retool the minimum price formulas under the Federal Milk Marketing Orders. Look for a series of four articles on this site explaining the different components over the coming days.

As an attorney that monitors dairy policy for clients, it is my opinion that each of the four components has positive and negative points, and a number of questions that have been addressed and still need to be answered. NMPF has yet to reveal the details of the FMMO component of the package, which may have more impact on dairy farm income than the other three parts combined. In January, the International Dairy Foods Association stopped just short of declaring war on supply management by launching a website, www.keepdairystrong.com, focusing entirely on opposing supply management.

Ideally, once completed and unveiled in its final form, FFTF will be a comprehensive solution to the concerns of dairy farmers, cooperatives, processors, and consumers. That is what NMPF is counting on, that a critical mass of the dairy world will support FFTF, as it is introduced in Congress in the coming weeks. NMPF has indicated that rather than include FFTF in the 2012 Farm Bill, it would seek to have it considered as stand-alone legislation with expeditious consideration by the Congress. The only way that can happen is if opposition to its passage and enactment will be minimal.

If there is opposition, who knows what the end of the process will look like? Dairy policy is among the most contentious areas that Congress deals with. Dairy policy polarizes by geography, by farm size, as to a lesser degree by party. Historically, the dairy title of Farm Bills has been one of the most difficult to finalize, In the face of opposition, that means that passage may not be a swift as NMPF desires. Changes, trade-offs, and modifications will be negotiated. The whole discussion could be folded into the Farm Bill debate. And that the final act, if passed, could bear little resemblance to bill as introduced.

In that event, the dairy industry might have to avert its eyes from the sausage factory and hope for an edible end product.