As a potential preliminary North American Free Trade Agreement announcement approaches, the trade challenges with Canada and the U.S. dairy industry are still not resolved. National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern met with the chief agriculture negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Gregg Doud, to talk about NAFTA. “We are very pleased with the United States position, which is exactly what it should be and what we’ve asked the administration to advocate, which is Canada has to eliminate its Class 7 policy and it has to agree to bring down its tariff wall. Frankly up to this point, there haven’t been extensive discussions between the United States and Canada on specific dairy issues. There hasn’t been any agreement reached at this point,” Mulhern said. Mulhern said the message was well received by Doud. “Dairy is the one area where the administration has a clear opportunity to develop more increased market access. It’s important the Canadian dairy issues are dealt with effectively. This is a free trade agreement. You can’t maintain tariffs of 200 to 300 percent in a free trade agreement. Those are two issues which must be addressed as we move toward a conclusion on the NAFTA negotiation,” Mulhern said.

Constructive dialogue needed
    The dairy industry is looking to smooth relations with China. U.S. Dairy Export Council President and CEO Tom Vilsack recently returned from China. Vilsack said there is a process to bring more U.S. dairy products into different areas of the world. “During NAFTA renegotiations, we’re encouraging our government to keep what’s working well in Mexico and improve what’s not working well in Canada. We’re taking the same approach in China and trying to develop a personal, one-on-one relationship,” he said. Vilsack said there are some aspects of the trade relationship with China that need to be addressed. However, there are some benefits which accrue to agriculture that need to be preserved. “Dialogue is one way. If you get reasonable and smart people in the room, and they keep talking to one another, eventually they’ll find a creative solution,” Vilsack said.

Farm bill progress at a halt
    Unless there are significant changes in the nutrition title of the farm bill, House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson does not see how Republicans will get Democratic support for the legislation. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway could get a bill out of committee on a partisan basis, but Peterson is uncertain if it will pass on the floor. “I think the Senate will move the farm bill in April, but we’ll end up with an extension if we can’t get this done,” Peterson said. “That bill won’t include SNAP changes they’re pushing in the House.” The nutrition title is the biggest hurdle. “I spent five weeks trying to get them to a realistic place, and I got nowhere. When I let the committee Democrats in on what was going on, they went nuts. I think there’s common ground, but they (Republicans) have to get off their high horse,” he said. Peterson is willing to listen to get the farm bill back on track when session resumes.

Dairy welcomes safety net improvements
    AMPI Board Chairman Steve Schlangen said the Margin Protection Program is one component of a dairy safety net. Additional improvement is always welcome. “It’s a start and is going in the right direction. However, we need improvement on the program (MPP) for next year,” Schlangen said. Schlangen believes there is room for improvement in the dairy industry by cutting the subsidy limit cap on the Livestock Gross Margin program. “We also need to open the door and allow for new programs,” he said. “There is a new revenue protection program being introduced by Farm Bureau that could be helpful for farms of all sizes.”

USDA reopens MPP enrollment
    The Farm Service Agency has reopened enrollment in the Margin Protection Program. The recent budget bill included changes to improve this tool. The updated program calculates margins on a monthly basis. Catastrophic coverage is now available on the first five million pounds of milk production, and the administrative fees are waived for disadvantaged producers. Even if dairy farmers are enrolled in MPP, they must sign up in the revised program between April 9 and June 1. If preferred, dairy farmers can also opt out of MPP.

Dealing with low dairy prices
    Margins remain tight for the dairy industry. AMPI Co-CEO Donn DeVelder said three straight years of low milk prices provides unique challenges. “Dairy farmers are trying to get over the hump and have trouble paying debts or reinvesting,” DeVelder said. “They don’t have the same balance sheets as three years ago.” The dairy industry is currently dealing with a world supply/demand issue. “We actually have good demand here in the United States,” he said. “In the European Union, there is a tremendous amount of milk being produced and dry milk in storage.”

In the courts
    The Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled the Department of Natural Resources can select the appellate court in Waukesha for an environmental case related to Kinnard Farms of Kewanee County. An expansion at Kinnard Farms is in the court system and there was an attempt to have the case heard in Madison, Wis. The Supreme Court decision impacts the venue for the legal appeal. The expansion, which was approved by the DNR, was challenged by neighbors and environmental groups.

Stapel elected president
    Brody Stapel of Cedar Grove, Wis., is the new president of Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative. Stapel has been the co-op’s vice president since January and succeeds John Pagel, who died in February. Todd Doornink of Baldwin, Wis., was elected as the new vice president.

NFU honors Wisconsin leaders
    During the National Farmers Union Convention, two Wisconsin women, Janet Nelson and Sue Carlson, were honored with the National Meritorious Service Award. Nelson, a farmer from Prairie Farm, is a longtime treasurer of the Wisconsin Farmers Union. Carlson is a past president for the Wisconsin Farmers Union.

Carlson to serve as University of Wisconsin Regent
    Grantsburg dairy farmer Cris Peterson has been appointed to the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents. Peterson, who is also a nationally-known author, will serve a seven-year term.

Trivia challenge
    Per capita cheese consumption in the United States is at 38.5 pounds per year. That answers our last trivia question. For this week, who is the National FFA president? We’ll have the answer in the next edition of Dairy Star.
    Don Wick is owner/broadcaster for the Red River Farm Network, based in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Wick has been recognized as the National Farm Broadcaster of the Year and served as president of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting. Don and his wife, Kolleen, have two adult sons, Tony and Sam, and five grandchildren, Aiden, Piper, Adrienne, Aurora, and Sterling.