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November 14, 2017

Dairy Leaders Seek Improvements in 2018 Farm Bill

 |  By: Anna-Lisa Laca

As 2018 approaches, Farm Bill negotiations are becoming top of mind. What will the dairy industry seek to see changed in the 2018 Farm Bill? Leaders hope for a better safety net for producers and increased domestic consumption through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

“[The Farm Bill] is a focus for us,” says Michael Dykes CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association. He and two other dairy leaders spoke about their Farm Bill wish list at the 2017 MILK Business Conference. “You know we have a lot of milk. USDA projections we're going to have more milk coming at us but we're also going to have another 2 billion people on the planet that we're going to feed as well.”

According to Dykes, he and Jim Mulhern of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) are going to Capitol Hill to talk with Congress about their Farm Bill proposals together. It is the first time the two organizations have worked together on the Farm Bill in a long time. One of the concepts they are looking into is doing something with the SNAP project to incentivize consumption of dairy products.

Mulhern says one of the biggest priorities for NMPF in the upcoming debate is to secure a safety net that works well for producers.

“The current program, the margin protection program, is not working as intended,” he says. “It is the right outline of a program but cuts that were made in the policy as it worked its way through the 2014 farm bill process that really ended up rendering it ineffective.”

He says there are tweaks that could be made to the program to improve it.

“Michael and I were up there a few weeks ago meeting with the leadership of both committees talking together about the importance of getting the policy right in this next farm bill,” he says. “We think that the fix can be made and can be done frankly within the budget limits that are going to be surrounding this whole debate.”

Secretary Vilsack, now CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council says agriculture groups determine the largest priorities and use existing funds to fix them instead of introducing new programs.

“You know in terms of the farm bill, at the end of the day I think it's wiser for us to focus on the need that exists within the constraints and the boundaries of the farm bill,” he says. “There are significant needs in dairy. The folks in cotton will tell you they have a need I think, but all producers are concerned about the way the programs are working. So I think the first and foremost we ought to define what the need is and then I think we ought to be challenged to basically find creative ways to leverage the resources that are available.”

Vilsack used the Regional Conservation Partnership Program as an example. He says that program was a way of bringing more money into conservation without “necessarily identifying them as federal dollars.”

“I think there are other kinds of strategies like that that I think will be required in order to get a farm bill through the process,” he explains. “Candidly, I said this when I was secretary and I'll say it now that I'm not, we ought to talk about it in terms of not just a farm bill it's a jobs bill. It's a research bill. It's an innovation bill, it's a conservation bill, and it’s a trade bill. I think if we start talking about it in its totality, people will understand the necessity of finding creative solutions.”