The National Milk Producers Federation Board Chairman Randy Mooney and President and CEO Jim Mulhern on Tuesday addressed key issues important to dairy farmers – immigration, exports, animal welfare and environmental stewardship – at the NMPF annual meeting in Grapevine, Texas.
The Mooney-Mulhern joint presentation came fewer than two months after the USDA formally launched the Dairy Margin Protection Program authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.
"The new Margin Protection Program is going to be more flexible, more fair, and more functional than the old MILC program," Mooney commented.
"I want, most of all, to remind farmers to take action and enroll their operation in the Margin Protection Program by USDA's Thanksgiving deadline," added Mulhern. "Even if you only want the barebones catastrophic coverage for next year, it will only cost you $100."
On immigration, Mulhern said congressional inaction this year would not keep NMPF from pressing the fight for immigration reform in 2015.
"Our industry and our members must continue to beat the drum in Washington, and – more importantly – in states and congressional districts across the nation, that immigration reform must be dealt with, and finally resolved, in the coming year," he said.
Regardless of who controls Congress after next month's elections, the two leaders said NMPF would continue pushing for reform because it is crucial for dairy farmers. "This issue must be resolved," Mulhern said.
On exports, Mooney and Mulhern said the U.S. dairy industry is intent on being a major player in world markets from here on out. "World trade in dairy is today's reality and tomorrow's opportunity," Mooney said.
Mulhern said dairy farmers have a lot riding on trade negotiations now under way involving both Europe and Asia. Japan, he said, is a potential opportunity for more exports, if the U.S. government can achieve a breakthrough in negotiations on a trade agreement.
But both in Japan and Europe, Mulhern said, domestic dairy interests don't want more competition from the United States. He said the European "defense strategy" is protecting names of common foods, like parmesan cheese.
"Those of us in the New World … have every right to make and market award-winning Parmesan, for the use and enjoyment of folks here and, ultimately, around the world," Mulhern said.
Turning to environmental issues, Mulhern said it is important for the dairy industry "to turn them from a liability to an opportunity."
As examples of this, Mulhern and Mooney cited work with the White House and federal agencies to encourage methane gas generation from dairy farm waste, and also efforts to recover and market valuable nutrients from livestock manure.
Mulhern compared nutrient recovery to whey generation by cheese plants, which not long ago was considered an environmental problem. "Today," he said, "whey has been transformed into something like white gold, a nutritious high-protein source of money to cheese plants, and a boost for farmers' Class III price.
Animal care, welfare
Finally, concerning animal care, Mooney said it's frustrating to hear "a small but vocal minority of critics attack dairy farmers and paint a twisted and false image of the care we provide our animals."
Mulhern noted that conscientious animal care is not just morally and ethically right but also good business, since healthy cows produce more milk.
"But it is also clear in this age of social media and the internet that we're past the point where we can ask people just to take our word" that we are providing proper care, he said.
The leaders said the group's recent change to require increased participation in its animal welfare program is a step in the right direction.
"It means that all of our farms will be held to the same high standards, with no exceptions," Mooney said. "And it helps us demonstrate that farms, regardless of size, are run by families … who take pride in what they do, and are committed to running a successful business that centers on producing high-quality milk from healthy cows."
Mooney said while the dairy industry faces challenges, there are also tremendous opportunities. "We have a world of opportunities awaiting us that, working together, we can take advantage of."
Mulhern concluded by stressing the need for better grassroots involvement by dairy farmers in policy decisions. "The political footprint of agriculture is contracting," he said. "That's one reason it was such a challenge to pass a new farm bill."
As a result, Mulhern said, the quality of grassroots engagement by farmers must improve. "Concentrating and amplifying our efforts," he said, "we can continue to accomplish great things."