Due to the impasse within the Democratic caucus in the Senate, the Biden Administration’s Build Back Better proposal is on life support. Senate leadership now admit the $2 trillion bill will not pass before the end of the year and there’s no clear path forward for 2022. At the same time, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was on a Wisconsin dairy farm last week promoting the bill. Vilsack told the Wisconsin Farm Report agriculture has some misperceptions about this Build Back Better plan. “I don’t think it understands and fully appreciates that this is paid for and paid for by companies that haven’t paid any tax at all and by extraordinarly wealthy Americans that make more than $10 million or $25 million per year.” Secondly, Vilsack said the farming sector may not understand the investment in conservation and research within this proposal that will provide assistance to agriculture and compliment the new infrastructure bill.
 
Transportation reform sought
The House has passed a bill to reform ocean shipping laws and is now being considered in the Senate. This bill gives the Federal Maritime Commission more authority to prevent ocean carriers from unfair practices. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is also seeking action by the ocean carriers to ease the current disruptions to agricultural trade. In an open letter to the industry, Vilsack and Buttigieg said more needs to be done to deal with congestion and the port and prevent discriminatory behavior. The National Milk Producers Federation and U.S. Dairy Export Council praised the support for transportation reform. “Dairy exporters are enduring tremendous challenges in getting their high-quality products to customers in overseas markets, which puts our industry’s reputation as a reliable supplier at risk. Our competitors in the European Union and Oceania are eager to swoop in and scoop up those sales,” said Krysta Harden, president and CEO, USDEC.
 
FDA’s next commissioner commits to label integrity
Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin challenged Food and Drug Administration Commissioner-nominee Dr. Robert Califf about the issue of dairy labeing during his confirmation hearing. “Will you commit to finalizing guidance without delay in providing a fair outcome the preserves the use of dairy terms for dairy products and resolve this issue once and for all?”  Califf agreed, saying “there’s almost nothing more fundamental about safety than people understanding what they’re ingesting so I’m committed to making this a priority.”

Decision time for DMC program
The sign-up period for the 2022 Dairy Margin Coverage program is underway through mid-February. This is for dairy farmers who are not already locked into DMC coverage through the lifespan of the current farm bill, which is two more years. About 50% of dairy farmers are committed to the program.  “The rest of the farmers have to decide about enrollment for 2022 and the thing is that you just never know exactly what's going to happen with either milk prices or feed costs,” said Chris Galen, senior vice president, National Milk Producers Federation. “Right now, we're looking at a better year ahead for milk prices, but guess what? Two years ago, that was the case; it was also true in 2020, and then look what happened in March of 2020 when everything just sort of hit the fan with the arrival of the coronavirus.”

DMC enhancements included with new signup
The USDA expanded the Dairy Management Coverage program, allowing farmers to enroll supplemental production. There are also updates to feed costs. “One of the changes we were able to make is to allow 100% of the costs of premium alfalfa hay for producers starting now, going forward,” said Zach Ducheneaux, administrator, Farm Service Agency. “There’s also a retroactive component that goes back to January 2020 to accommodate producers going through challenges. Ducheneaux said the USDA should be able to reach more dairy farmers with these changes. The FSA paid out more than $1 billion in 2021’s DMC program.

Block, barrel cheese price gap continues
USDA Dairy Market News says it is a busy time for cheese production. Staffing shortages are common, but most plants have been “making due with lighter crews.” The large price gap between block and barrel cheese is keeping the markets within a similar range. The report says this isn’t necessarily bearish , but this price gap “keeps the bulls contained.”

EPA releases 2022 agenda
The Environmental Protection Agency released its unified agenda for the year ahead. The agency is scheduled to issue the regulatory process for a new Waters of the United States rule in February. A national ambient air quality standard is also in the works with an announcement by August of next year. This is the proposal to regulate farm dust that came up during the Obama administration.
 
Three interest rate hikes expected in 2022
The Federal Reserve will continue to hold interest rates near zero, but Federal Reserve officials are prepared to raise their short-term benchmark rate at least three times next year due to inflation. After the two-day meeting wrapped up this month, officials said they’d keep rates near zero until they were satisfied labor market conditions were consistent with maximum employment.

WI dairy industry loses longtime leader
After a battle with cancer, longtime Wisconsin dairy leader Jerry Meissner, 67, has passed. Meissner was involved with Dairy Business Association since the group was organized over 20 years ago and served as DBA’s president from 2007 to 2015. The Chili dairy farmer was also an officer with the Edge Dairy Cooperative.

Hromyak resigns from FFA Foundation
Wisconsin FFA Foundation Executive Director John Hromyak is stepping down as of Jan. 7. Hromyak has been in this role since 2017 and has accepted a new opportunity. The Wisconsin FFA Foundation board will begin a search in the new year.

Trivia challenge
Egg Nog is the Christmas beverage that is also known as milk punch. That answers our last trivia question. For this week’s trivia, how many stomach compartments does the cow have? 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.