More than 23,000 of the nation's dairy operations – about half of all dairy farms in America – have enrolled in the Margin Protection Program for Dairy (MPP-Dairy), USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Monday. (According to USDA data, there were 46,960 dairy operations commercially licensed to sell milk in 2013, the latest information available. The release did not indicate the percentage of annual milk production was covered under the program.)

The voluntary program allows participating farmers to receive indemnity payments when the margin – the difference between the price of milk and feed costs – falls below the coverage level selected by the farmer.

"Enrollment far exceeded our expectations in the first year," said Vilsack. "We're pleased that so many dairy producers are taking advantage of the expanded protection. USDA conducted a lot of outreach to get the word out. When you compare the initial enrollment rate for the Margin Protection Program to the longstanding federal crop insurance program, where participation ranges from 30% to 80% depending on the crop, it's clear that these outreach efforts made a difference."

During the three months of the enrollment period, USDA conducted a robust education and outreach effort to the nation's dairy producers. The department held over 500 public meetings, sent out nearly 60,000 direct mailings, and conducted more than 400 demonstrations of the Web-based tool designed to help applicants to calculate their specific coverage needs.

Unlike earlier dairy programs, MPP-Dairy offers dairy producers a range of choices of protection that are best suited for their operation. Starting with basic coverage for an administrative fee of $100, producers can select higher levels of coverage at affordable incremental premiums. More than half of applicants selected higher coverage beyond the basic level.

Dairy producers interested in enrolling in MPP-Dairy for Fiscal Year 2016 can register between July 1 and Sept. 30, 2015.

For more information, visit the Farm Service Agency (FSA) online at