Economists: Farms may ‘game’ new dairy law

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The ink isn’t dry on rules regarding the Margin Protection Program (MPP) included in the 2014 farm bill. But economists say evidence suggests farms, legally, found opportunities under MILC to maximize safety net benefits, and they could do the same under MPP.

The conclusion is reached on a poster developed for the July 2014 annual meeting of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, to be held in Minneapolis, Minn., by John Newton (University of Illinois), Cameron S. Thraen (The Ohio State University), and Mark Stephenson (University of Wisconsin). John NewtonUniversity of IllinoisJohn Newton

The three economists, part of the National Program on Dairy Markets and Policy (DMaP), show on their poster that farms with over 2.985 million pounds of milk marketings per month did very well in predicting the “best” month of the fiscal year to sign up for Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) funding. The 1,243 farms in the study picked the best month with amazing accuracy. The group says on the poster, “Confirmation of strategic behavior in MILC indicates that farmers may adversely game the MPP program to maximize financial returns.”

According to Newton, lead author on the poster, this means that if we have a time of predictably low margins under MPP, “Imagine significant indemnity payouts, especially considering we no longer have a cap on coverage.”

Newton and the team evaluated the largest farms during MILC years 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2013. In 2009, 2010, and 2013, the farmers picked the right month at least 80% of the time.


FY 2009

FY 2010

FY 2012

FY 2013

Percent largest farms picking “best” month





MILC opportunity (per cwt)





Newton notes that the disparity in 2012 was likely the result of a late rise in feed prices and MILC payment opportunities earlier in the fiscal year. MPP will be selected year by year, but if farmers use information in a similar manner, they may be able to adjust coverage levels up or down based on anticipated risk in milk and feed markets, Newton said.

Source: AAEA conference proceedings

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geoffrey vandenheuvel    
chino, california  |  June, 06, 2014 at 08:33 AM

The suggestion that farmers "gamed" the MILC program start month implies that there is something wrong or unethical about this. The whole construction of the MILC, with a very low cap and the ability to change start months was "gaming" the dairy farmer. The purpose of the MILC was to provide income assistance to dairy producers when milk prices were low, but certain dairy farmers were discriminated against because of size. Tho program, in an attempt to mitigate that obvious discrimination, allowed producers to change their start month to maximize their assistance. The Margin Protection Program has no production discrimination embedded in it. It does allow producers to adjust on an annual basis their level of coverage and I think you can expect producers to attempt to maximize benefits and minimize premium cost. Some might call this "gaming", a pejorative term in my view, I would simply call it understandable smart business.

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