Dairy Speaks in D.C.
Thursday, April 12, 2018
Posted by: John Holevoet, director of government affairs
A group of Edge farmers, including three members of our board of directors, made the trip to Washington, D.C., at the end of March to work on issues facing their farms, our co-op and the broader dairy community.
Our annual Washington trip, known as Dairy Speaks in D.C., is one of the opportunities members have to engage directly with lawmakers and policymakers in Washington. This year we chose to time our trip to coincide with National Ag Day on March 20.
Trade was our primary focus. We know the impact low milk prices are having on the dairy community. Boosting trade is something that has helped with low prices in the past. While it is not a complete solution to the market challenges we face, it will be a key component of any practical path forward.
The importance of global trade to commodity markets is clear. Dairy farmers and others in agriculture can draw a direct line between a portion of their income and the foreign trade. Yet, trade is also under threat from competing interests. Therefore, our discussions focused both on protecting our existing trade relationships while also building new ones.
The need to positively conclude NAFTA renegotiations and properly fund Title III Farm Bill programs that promote trade came up in all 21 meetings we had on Capitol Hill. The group also met with ag negotiation staff at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office and issue experts at the Canadian and Mexican embassies.
In addition to trade, Edge farmers spoke about the need for immigration reform to include a viable program for ag labor. We emphasized the importance of solution for our existing workforce above all else. We met with Stephanie Gadbois, who works for Chairman Bob Goodlatte. His AG Act language provides the best attempt to address farmers’ labor concerns in many years, although it faces an uncertain future.
Other issues on our agenda included fixing Section 199A to create a more even playing field between processing co-ops and private processors; the broader farm bill debate, with a focus on the dairy farmer safety net; and the continued mislabeling of certain plant-based products with dairy names like milk. Finally, we discussed the need to build on the momentum for regulatory streamlining. Our final meeting was with Under Secretary Greg Ibach, who heads up USDA’s Marketing and Regulatory Programs.
The timing of our trip made it unusual for two reasons. First, Edge must have brought some of our Upper Midwestern weather with us. Washington was hit by a late-season snow storm while we were there. Second, and more importantly, Congress was hurriedly working on the last omnibus spending bill to narrowly avoid yet another government shutdown.
As most of you are already aware because of past co-op communication about it, the March omnibus contained several good items for agriculture.
First, it offered a fix for Section 199A, which restored a more level playing field for co-op and private buyers of milk and other agriculture commodities. That fix is also retroactive, so it is like the 199A mistake never even happened.
The bill also clarified that livestock farms are exempt from air quality reporting requirements under CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act). Like the tax fix, this also restores a previous status quo. It had been disrupted last year because of a federal court decision.
Finally, the bill’s report language directs the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to develop a standard of identity for dairy products based on exiting FDA definitions for milk. This is meant to address mislabeling concerns, although report language is not binding in the same way that statutory bill language is. So, this is a positive development, but it may not be the end of this fight.
As a member of your lobbying team, I am honored to make the case for dairy farmers’ interests. Still, I know that there is no substitute for our government officials hearing directly from you about the issues that matter most. That is why Dairy Speaks in D.C. events are important and why the co-op is committed to growing these events and making them even more impactful. Contact us if you are interested in participating in a future Dairy Speaks in D.C. event.