During a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing Thursday on the state of U.S. dairy policy, the National Milk Producers Federation told the Senate that the current Farm Bill, created in 2002, “is a reasonable, rational and fair approach to farm policy,” according to Charles Beckendorf, Chairman of NMPF.  The Senate held the hearing to examine what has happened in the dairy industry since the current Farm Bill was passed four years ago.

Beckendorf, who is a dairy farmer from Tomball, Texas, said that most of the policy positions advocated by NMPF were included in the 2002 Farm Bill.  They included:

  •  Extending the dairy price support program through the five-year lifespan of the 2002 Farm Bill.
  •  Reauthorizing the Dairy Export Incentive Program, which is the U.S. industry’s primary tool to counter export subsidies used by Europe’s dairy industry.
  •  Funding animal health programs, such as a Johne’s Disease Control program, along with a new veterinary lab in Iowa.
  • Expanding the usefulness of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which is the primary federal resource for helping farmers make environmental improvements in their operations.

Beckendorf told the Senate panel it is important that Congress establish an economic safety net for dairy producers, which it did four years ago through the reauthorization of the dairy price support program.  He told the committee that the program “is the most effective, efficient and equitable safety net program” for farmers, and is one that doesn’t discriminate based on milk production, farm size or location.

He also told the Senate that NMPF remains a strong supporter of the Federal Milk Marketing Order program, and that, while the program could be streamlined to make it more efficient, “it remains an essential part of federal dairy policy.”

While most of the Senate hearing was oriented toward examining economic policy issues, Beckendorf reminded the Ag Committee that NMPF views farm policy holistically, in that it must incorporate a broad-based perspective on agriculture.   From NMPF’s standpoint, the Farm Bill must also address issues including animal health, environmental compliance, trade policy, along with energy and rural development. 

Beckendorf also explained that the dairy industry’s three year old self-help program, Cooperatives Working Together, is not intended to take the place of federal government, but rather is “a complement to, not a replacement of, farm programs.”

He also reminded the Senate members that one of the key determinants of what may happen in the future with U.S. farm policy is dependent on trade agreements made with other countries. 

“Congress should be involved in carefully reviewing future trade agreements,” he said, because “trade policy plays a significant role in impacting the effectiveness of government dairy programs,” Beckendorf said.

He concluded by urging the Senate to stay involved in monitoring U.S. farm policy. “Our message to the Senate is that dairy farmers are not looking for a handout.  Nor are we looking for a hand up; what farmers are looking for from government is a handshake,” Beckendorf said. “Dairy farmers want a sign of commitment, such as a handshake, indicating, when times are tough, that there will be a modest safety net in place to help catch those who are vulnerable.”

A full copy of the NMPF testimony is available at www.nmpf.org.

NMPF Press Release