The action on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement has received broad praise from the dairy industry. National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern said USMCA will be a boon for U.S. dairy farmers. “An already good deal for U.S. dairy farmers is even better now.” U.S. Dairy Export Council President and CEO Tom Vilsack said one important change reforms Canada’s controversial dairy pricing system and provides exclusive access to the Canadian market for U.S. farmers and manufacturers. “The trade deal also strengthens our relationship with Mexico and establishes new protections for common cheese names,” said the former USDA leader. International Dairy Foods Association President/CEO Michael Dykes believes the new trade agreement will deliver “peace of mind for our businesses.” Dykes said USMCA removes the uncertainty seen over the past two years as the deal was negotiated.

DMC enrollment down from ‘19
    Ahead of the December 20 deadline to enroll or change coverage in the Dairy Margin Coverage program, the number of dairy farmers signed up for the next four years is down significantly from 2019. Approximately 23,000 farmers used DMC this past year, but about half of them did not re-enroll. National Milk Producers Federation spokesperson Chris Galen praised the safety net program. “Thankfully, milk prices have rebounded here as we wind up 2019, but we just don’t know what’s going to happen with either milk prices or feed costs next year.”

Peterson highlights DMC program
    During an address at the First District Cooperative annual meeting, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson said the Margin Protection Program didn’t work and adjustments were made for the Dairy Margin Coverage program. “We had to make this adequate; if we’re going to save this industry and keep young people and smaller farms in business, this is what we need to do. Five years from now, people might say it was too good, but that’s better than being too bad.” Peterson acknowledged one problem with DMC is for the dairy farms that milked from 2011 to 2014. “They will use that base and some of these young guys are trying to expand now and they can only have the margin coverage on the base they had back then. That’s a problem and we need to fix it.”

FSA staffing is challenged
    County level USDA offices are understaffed. According to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, getting new people in the roles is challenging the agency. “We need people. We’re looking to hire people. Today, with 3.5 percent unemployment, people aren’t going to wait long to be approved for a job,” Perdue said. Perdue is asking the Federal Office of Personnel Management for direct hiring authority to cut the process in half.

Smith concerned for young farmers
    Minnesota Senator Tina Smith has heard from many farmers hurt by crop losses and a delayed harvest. “I think about the younger farmers, in particular, who don’t have a lot of equity and are still trying to get their feet under them and the impact of a season like this can be multiplied.”

Farm groups cooperate on farm stress training
    Agriculture groups are coming together to help farmers and ranchers manage stress. Farm Credit, American Farm Bureau Federation and National Farmers Union are partnering on a program to recognize signs of stress for individuals who work with farmers and ranchers. “Loan officers are on farms working with producers every day, and they see firsthand how this difficult farm economy is causing emotional stress for farmers and their families,” said Farm Credit Council CEO Todd Van Hoose. AFBF President Zippy Duvall said, “Farm Bureau is a family, and when a member is hurting, we all feel it and are eager to help. But we may not always know how to spot the warning signs that someone is overwhelmed.” The training is a combination of online and in-person sessions and based on the farm stress program developed by Michigan State University Extension. “By training trusted neighbors and friends to recognize and address stress, this program will bring help closer and make it more accessible when farmers really need it,” said NFU President, Roger Johnson.

Farmers go to inner circle for help
    The Marshfield Clinic Research Institute surveyed 300 farmers in central Wisconsin to gain perspective on mental health. The study found farmers are more receptive to receiving mental health information from licensed medical providers and their inner-circle of family and friends. The respondents were less receptive to receiving information from attorneys, bankers and commodity groups. The study also found farmers prefer to discuss these issues on a face-to-face basis, rather than through an online webinar or social media.

Credit risk at acceptable levels
    The Farm Credit Administration is reporting steady earnings and higher capital throughout the Farm Credit System. Credit risk is higher for the year, but it is at acceptable levels. The quarterly report said credit stress is up, but the farm credit system is financially sound and well capitalized.

Election year politics may impact legislative session
    The Minnesota Legislature will have a shortened session, with lawmakers gathering in St. Paul in mid-February. Agricultural lobbyist Bruce Kleven said the 2020 election will influence the statewide elections. “I think we will have a big election year with Trump on the ballot and all the commotion going on nationally that will trickle down here,” Kleven said. “There is a possibility the Senate could turn this year and if that happens, it will put DFL control in all three bodies in 2021. One of the ways that will happen is with some of the policies that will come up this year.”

Johnson to retire from NFU presidency
    National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson will not seek re-election when his term ends in March. Johnson has notified the NFU board about the retirement plans. The former North Dakota agriculture commissioner has served as president of the organization since 2009. “I’ve spent my whole life in agriculture. Now, we’re going to spend more time with grandkids,” Johnson said.

MMPA awards presented
    The Minnesota Milk Producers Association presented its first-ever Above and Beyond Award to Paul Tveten of Select Sires. Tveten was recognized for helping farmers last winter when buildings were collapsing under the weight of the snow. The Policy Makers of the Year Award went to Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen and FSA State Director Joe Martin for coordinating the new statewide dairy initiative.

Trivia challenge
    European butter must include 82 percent butterfat. That compares to 80 percent in the United States. That answers our last trivia question. For this week, when did the tradition of leaving milk and cookies for Santa begin in the United States? 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.