September 9, 2023 at 8:00 a.m.
The difference 2 cents can make
Dairy Checkoff Reform Proposal seeks to divert portion of dollars to food banks
Tom Olson, Dairy Farmer
TAYLOR, Wis. — Tom Olson has an idea. He believes his idea will move a lot of dairy product while putting dairy checkoff dollars to good use. As a result, he is seeking a 2-cent slice of the dairy checkoff.
In the Dairy Checkoff Reform Proposal, Olson is asking Congress to amend the Dairy Product Stabilization Act of 1983 to allow dairy producers to divert 2 cents out of the 15 cents per hundredweight they pay to a parent food bank in their state.
Two cents can add up quickly. In 2019, the U.S. produced 218 billion pounds of milk, Olson said. The total checkoff of 15 cents per hundredweight equaled $327 million that was paid in by dairy farmers. Two cents per hundredweight would equal $43.6 million per year that could be spent on dairy products for food banks.
“The checkoff was supposed to help the farmer keep farming,” Olson said. “But when you look at the declining dairy farm numbers since 1983 when the checkoff was started, it is impossible to say this program helped the dairy industry.”
Olson milks 30 cows near Black River Falls and is the president of the Dairy Pricing Association. His proposal is an extension of what DPA does on a regular basis. Based in Taylor, DPA has been buying and donating dairy products since 2011. The money raised by this dairy farmer-funded group comes from approximately 200 members in 10 states.
DPA is a grassroots, voluntary dairy farmer organization that uses producer assessments to purchase excess dairy products from the marketplace. These products are then donated to humanitarian causes that do not displace existing sales. DPA is a regular, active buyer in the daily cash-traded block cheddar cheese market, which the group sees as a benefit to milk checks across the nation.
DPA’s mission is to promote domestically produced dairy products and establish the minimum price the dairy industry receives for its production. At the same time, they maintain a level of milk production to meet the needs of the consumer.
“The need for dairy products for use in food banks across the nation is unbelievably large,” Olson said. “The dairy donation program that started during (the pandemic) has ended and left a lot of low-income people struggling to keep dairy in their family’s diet.”
After the program ended, Olson received a call from the Jackson County housing and urban development program which was looking for more donations of dairy products.
“Some of the people they serve are handicapped or elderly, and all are low income,” Olson said. “They’re all on a real tight budget and have to choo
se how to spend money, whether it be on food or medicine.”
As a result, DPA bought and sent 534 pounds of cheddar cheese to Jackson County in July. The county has 90 recipients who qualify for the HUD program.
“They were really happy to get the cheese,” Olson said. “It made these people’s day.”
When stores remove dated products from the dairy case, Olson said low-fat and non-fat milk is what does not sell and is then donated. Under his proposal, farmers would have the ability to donate 11 million gallons of whole milk or a whole array of dairy products to food banks and soup kitchens annually.
“Food banks have different needs across the nation, but they all have one thing in common and that is the need for dairy products,” Olson said. “When I look at what food banks receive for donations, the thing I see that is in short supply is whole milk.”
Under Olson’s proposal, the parent food bank would oversee distribution of money to local food banks and soup kitchens with this money earmarked to be used for dairy products only.
Producers in every state would choose where the 2 cents is sent and would also have the choice to pull it from their state checkoff or national checkoff.
“Checkoff dollars would be diverted for a better use under my proposal,” Olson said. “It’s going to move a lot of dairy product versus what the money is doing now. Right now, it’s pretty much just advertising. But it’s a form of advertising too when you’re getting milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream in front of people.”
Olson was invited to the Congressional Agriculture Committee Meeting held in La Crosse Aug. 16. The hearing was a listening session with members of Congress on farm bill priorities to learn what farmers would like to see changed in a farm bill.
Olson’s proposal was sent home with members of Congress that day. The proposal is also being sent to all 51 members of the House ag committee.
“This proposal can stand alone,” Olson said. “It doesn’t have to be done through the farm bill.”
DPA is looking for signatures of support for the Dairy Checkoff Reform Proposal to present to Congress. Dairy producers and consumers can sign the proposal on DPA’s website.
“We hope to get as many signatures as we can,” Olson said. “I urge dairy farmers to sign this proposal and help put our checkoff dollars to good use.”