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From The MPC Newsletter
Friday, April 8, 201
1

Successful Industry Meeting in Visalia - Dairy Producers Get an Up-Close Look at NMPF's "Foundation for the Future"
By Rob Vandenheuvel, General Manager

This past Tuesday, MPC and California Dairy Campaign co-hosted an industry meeting in Visalia to delve into National Milk Producers Federation’s “Foundation for the Future” (FFTF).  As many of you know, FFTF is a topic of industry conversations all over the country, as it is the most prominent industry reform plan out there.

Many of the details about FFTF have been published on www.futurefordairy.com, and whether you were able to attend this week’s industry meeting or not, I strongly encourage every dairyman to learn as much as you can about what’s being presented.  In short, FFTF includes:

  1. A “Dairy Market Stabilization Program” that will empower dairy farmers to collectively respond to supply/demand imbalances by temporarily cutting back milk production when needed.

  2. A “Dairy Producer Margin Protection Program” that will replace the MILC and Dairy Price Support Program as our industry safety net to protect dairy farmer equity in the limited periods when the market stabilization program cannot act fast enough to bring balance back to our industry.

  3. Fundamental reforms of our nation’s Federal Milk Marketing Orders.

The meeting this past Tuesday attracted about 160 people, a vast majority of which were dairy farmers.  The meeting, which was moderated by CDC Executive Director Kevin Abernathy, was broken into five main parts:

  1. An opening statement from MPC President Syp Vander Dussen.  Syp used his time to urge a call-to-action by dairy farmers.  He reminded everyone in the room that IDFA – the main Washington, DC lobbying organization for our nation’s processors, is going to work tirelessly to kill any effort aimed at empowering dairy farmers, and if we want any chance of real reform that includes measures to collectively cut back milk production when surplus production causes negative dairy farmer margins, we will need to all get behind a common industry proposal.  Syp noted that any division on the producer side of our industry will hand IDFA what they want – a continuation of the status quo.

  2. My presentation on the details of NMPF’s “Foundation for the Future.”  I went through a presentation on the details of how FFTF would work, with much of the program triggering in an out based on dairy farmer “margins.”  A copy of the presentation slides I used can be found on our website at: http://www.milkproducerscouncil.org/040511visaliadairymtg.pdf.  I encourage all our readers to spend a few minutes reviewing these slides, as they lay out the basic structure of what is being proposed in FFTF.

  3. A panel discussion by MPC Vice-President Geoffrey Vanden Heuvel and CDC Board Member Joaquin Contente.  The audience got a glimpse into the arguments in favor and against some of the pieces of FFTF, as Geoffrey and Joaquin spent about 30 minutes debating/discussing the details of FFTF.

  4. A closing statement by Cornell Kasbergen, Tulare dairyman and NMPF Director.  Cornell talked about the process he and his colleagues on the NMPF Board had gone through to craft FFTF, and updated the audience on the status of the plan as it is being sent to Congress as a legislative proposal.  Cornell commented that while FFTF is certainly not “perfect” (and I would note that perfection is an unachievable standard in an imperfect world), it is truly our best and only shot at getting real reform that empowers dairy farmers through Congress this year.  Cornell reiterated Syp’s earlier comments that IDFA is strongly opposed to the provisions that allow dairies to collectively cut back surplus milk production, and they will be working hard to derail that effort in Congress.  He went on to say that unless producers get behind FFTF, we will be stuck with the status quo.

  5. A Q&A session with the audience.  The meeting ended with time for Q&A, with the audience directing questions to Cornell, Joaquin and Geoffrey.

While it’s always difficult to know what an audience gets out of any particular meeting, it seemed clear that the dairy producers that were able to attend this meeting walked out with a much clearer picture of FFTF and the issues are surrounding it than when they walked in.  MPC and CDC greatly appreciate those who took the time to come out to the meeting, as well as Western Milling, who provided the accommodations.

The meeting was recorded by video, and hopefully in the near future, we will be able to post some/all of that footage on our website.  But in the meantime, I strongly encourage everyone to take the time to go through the presentation slides on our website (http://www.milkproducerscouncil.org/040511visaliadairymtg.pdf), as well as the detailed information on NMPF’s website (http://www.futurefordairy.com).

Much of the past couple years has been spent talking about different proposals and different ideas.  That has been an essential part of this process, and one that MPC has been very active in.  Last year, we spent much of our time and resources talking about the Costa/Sanders Bill – a legislative proposal for a Growth Management Plan that had some growing support around the country, but was not able to attract the critical mass of support needed to get it implemented.  But as we sit here in 2011, we have a rare opportunity to successfully move a real reform package through Congress.  Our legislators have made it clear that they recognize the devastation in the dairy industry and the need for reform, but until the producers can get on the same page with regard to what that reform package looks like, Congress’s hands are tied. 

With IDFA strongly opposed to serious reform in the dairy industry, our nation’s dairy farmers are either going to get behind one proposal or we will be stuck with the status quo of feeding top-dollar hay and grains to our cows and crossing our fingers every morning when the CME trading report comes out.  There has to be a better way of operating our industry, and given the rare and tight window of opportunity before us, the question we must ask ourselves is simple: Does FFTF improve the producers’ position in this industry

We know what IDFA’s position is – they clearly believe FFTF would transfer some of the price risk away from producers and onto the backs of processors.  Their opposition to that type of change is both predictable and understandable.  But the question about whether FFTF is a plan that improves producers’ position is something that every dairy farmer and producer group around the country must answer.  So read as much as you can about the plan, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.  But at the end of that process, be prepared to stand up and answer the biggest question of all: Is FFTF change you can support, or are you ok with the status quo?

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