The United States Department of Agriculture is ditching its Farmers to Families Food Box Program and replacing it with the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program. During an appearance before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said the TEFAP will be more efficient. National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern said he was not surprised by the decision due to the challenges with the program. USDA also indicated it will implement a Dairy Donation Program to facilitate the donation of dairy products to non-profit groups.

USDA budget plan considers big issues
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack made a case for the USDA’s Fiscal Year 2022 Discretionary Budget during an appearance on Capitol Hill. Climate change, addressing systemic racism, nutrition and resiliency in agriculture are four big ideas expressed within the budget proposal. Vilsack said there is also a plan to address rural broadband. “One of the things we’ll be focusing on is making sure there’s a minimum level of uptick and download speeds to create opportunities for telehealth, for distance learning,” Vilsack said. “We’ve learned the importance of this during the pandemic.”

Logistical issues hamper trade
In its quarterly report, CoBank said trade has been hampered by logistical problems, including a lack of containers and congestion at the ports. As the industry struggles with those issues, the pace of U.S. dairy exports started weaker this year. Cheese and butter stocks rose, climbing 5.4% and 16.8%, respectively. U.S. milk production rose in January and February. Cow numbers in February reached the highest level in three decades.

COVID-19 a focus for global trade
The pandemic and its impact on agricultural trade dominated the recent agenda for the World Trade Organization’s agriculture committee. The United States was asked about its COVID-19 assistance package for farmers to determine if the subsidies would be considered trade-distorting. Canada was questioned about its dairy policy.

Milk production strengthens
According to USDA’s latest supply/demand report, 2021 milk production totaled 227.7 billion pounds. That is up 400 million pounds from the March forecast. The report increased the price projections for nonfat dry milk, butter, cheese and whey due to improving domestic and international demand.

Be strategic when recovering from tough times
With higher commodity prices, RaboBank Senior Grain and Oilseed Analyst Stephen Nicholson said farmers may want to consider strategies to help secure long-term financial stability. “Working capital has been depleted in the past seven years,” Nicholson said. “Let’s rebuild the working capital first. One lesson we took from the last uptick in commodity prices was if farmers pay down debt, they are debt free but also cash poor.” Nicholson said balance will be important. Once farmers rebuild working capital, attention can shift to improving the farm business. “Maybe farmers should invest in a new business to help sustain the business longer-term,” he said. “Perhaps it’s investing in new crops and then farmers can be thinking about how to make the farm more efficient.”
PPP reduces demand for traditional loans
The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City is reporting a drop in the number of farm operating loans during the first quarter. The total volume of non-real estate loans was down 10% from last year. The report said the Paycheck Protection Program likely displaced a portion of the typical demand for financing.

Addressing the veterinarian shortage
Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind has introduced a bill to address the veterinarian shortage in the agriculture sector. The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act will provide a federal tax exemption for veterinarians. “This bill will help increase opportunities for veterinarians to practice in communities across Wisconsin,” Kind said.

More regulations sought for methane digesters
Activist groups are petitioning the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the methane produced by large-scale dairy farms under the Clean Air Act. The petition claims these farms have increased pollution, damaged public health and negatively impacted communities of color. The 75-page petition was signed by nearly 25 groups, including Minnesota-based Land Stewardship Project and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

DBA outlines policy priorities
The Dairy Business Association’s Dairy Day at the Capitol was a virtual experience this spring. Policy priorities included funding for transportation, support for the Dairy Innovation Hub at three University of Wisconsin campuses and more money for water quality initiatives. The DBA is also advocating for properly trained non-citizens to drive legally. The driver’s permit concept is described as “a public safety and economic development issue.”

Meaty message from plant-based food company
Impossible Foods has launched its first national advertising campaign. The television commercials feature images of juicy cheeseburgers, saying the Impossible Burger is meat for meat lovers made from plants. Impossible Foods CEO Patrick O. Brown said the “We Are Meat” ads are intended to show consumers can have the meat protein experience without “animal-based technology.”

NMPF promotes current staffers
The National Milk Producers Federation has promoted five key employees. Jamie Castaneda will become the executive vice president for policy development and strategy. Previously, Castaneda was the senior vice president for policy strategy and international trade. Vice President for Trade Policy Shawna Morris has been promoted to senior vice president. NMPF Vice President for Sustainability and Scientific Affairs Jamie Jonker is now also the chief science officer. Claudia Larson, who has been the government relations director, has been promoted to be the senior director of government relations.

Bonnie nominated for USDA job
President Joe Biden is nominating Robert Bonnie to be the Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation. Bonnie is USDA’s deputy chief of staff and senior climate advisor. Bonnie was an under secretary at USDA during the Obama administration.

Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association elects new leadership
Steve Bechel is the new president of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association. Bechel is a master cheesemaker for Eau Galle Cheese Factory near Durand.

Trivia challenge
USDA Deputy Agriculture Secretary Jewel Bronaugh served as Virginia’s agriculture commissioner since 2018. That answers our last trivia question. For this week’s trivia, how many glasses of milk does the average cow produce in her lifetime? We will 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.