NMPFJim Mulhern As the new President and CEO of NMPF, I look forward in the coming years to continuing the use of this forum to communicate my views about the challenges – and opportunities – facing NMPF and the dairy industry. Hopefully, the timing of this, my first column, is fortunate in the sense that many of us start each New Year making lists of things we’d like to do (or stop doing), change or achieve. For my inaugural CEO's Corner column, then, let me start with a brief list of the things we’ll being working on with NMPF’s members in the coming year.
The top item on that list is, for better or worse, a holdover from last year, and even the year before that: establishing a new and better safety net for dairy farmers. What should have been achieved by Congress in 2012, and what had a chance of getting done last year, was passage of a new farm bill containing the Dairy Security Act. NMPF and its members have been working hard with Congress since 2009 to devise and pass a new dairy program. The good news is that it appears we’re on the cusp of getting a farm bill done as 2014 begins.
Members of the House and Senate are returning to Capitol Hill this month, and finalizing the farm bill is also at the top of the list of New Year’s resolutions for them. I am cautiously optimistic that the farm bill negotiations between members of the House and Senate Agriculture committees will produce an economically and politically viable bill. It’s been bedeviled by controversies ranging from the marketing of catfish and eggs, to the level of spending on food stamps and crop insurance – but differences over these items can and will be resolved. We still need to thread the needle by ensuring that the resulting bill will pass both chambers, and be signed by the President, but I believe we’re just about there.
The second part of this resolution is just as critical: namely, ensuring that once Congress has finished its work in passing the farm bill, the resulting dairy program must be quickly and effectively implemented by USDA. New rules and regulations will have to be developed by USDA once the farm bill becomes law. Since the new margin insurance program will be the biggest change in dairy policy in many years, there’s going to be a learning curve, especially for farmers who will have to make important decisions about whether to participate in the insurance program, and at what level of coverage.