The recent passing of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, or farm bill, may bring a ray of hope to America’s dairy farmers. The legislation allocates subsidies to farmers and expands programs specifically aimed to help dairy producers.
    The bill gives dairy operations more risk management options, makes it easier for farmers to secure loans and offers increased margin protection to compensate for low milk prices while allowing more dairy farmers to take advantage of the dairy price support.
    “This bill is a strong start to addressing the issues our producers are facing right now, particularly our dairy farmers,” said House Agriculture Committee ranking member Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), in a farm bill conference report released Dec. 10. “The bill’s new provisions will offer more flexible coverage for lower cost when dairy farmers need it most, and provide producers more tools to manage their risk.”
    The $867 billion bill replaces the Agricultural Act of 2014 which expired Sept. 30 and offers greater protection than the previous bill.
    “The economic downturn in farm country is hitting dairy hardest of all,” Peterson said. “In my home state of Minnesota and in neighboring Wisconsin, an average of two dairies are going out of business every day. The provisions in this bill will provide expanded, affordable coverage options and more flexibility for dairy farmers.”
    Furthermore, Peterson said the bill invests in outreach to beginning and underserved producers, local and organic food production, bioenergy and access to new markets. It also addresses broadband internet, stress and mental health issues, and the opioid epidemic in rural areas.
    Both the House and Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of the bill, which is expected to be signed by President Trump this week. The Senate voted 87-13 Dec. 11. The next day, the House also voted in favor of the bill, 369-47.
    The bill received bipartisan support. In a press release, Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation, said the bill was a vote of confidence in U.S. agriculture and a reason for hope among dairy producers.
    The bill features several policy reforms for dairy, including: Higher coverage levels at more affordable and flexible rates through the Dairy Margin Coverage Program (formerly the Margin Protection Program), allowing all dairy producers to insure margins above $8 on their Tier 1 (first five million pounds) of production history; Greater flexibility to enable producers of all sizes to access Tier 1 premium rates; Reduced cost of $5 margin coverage by roughly 88 percent; Expanded access to additional risk management tools, permitting producers to participate in both the DMC and Livestock Gross Margin insurance program. This revamp to the risk management program makes it more affordable and also allows farmers to enroll in multiple federally-funded programs simultaneously; Continued support for land and water conservation programs that assist dairy producers, like conservation innovation grants; Nutrition provisions intended to enhance fluid milk consumption.  
    The farm bill makes critical reforms to dairy programs, which will help farmers recoup some of their losses and boost income going forward. For example, strengthening the dairy insurance program by adding coverage options at less expensive rates and refunding up to $58 million in premiums paid under the old program will help dairy producers gain traction in the New Year.
    “The 2018 Farm Bill is our opportunity to make the American food and agriculture systems work more efficiently,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) in the Dec. 10 farm bill conference report. “As promised, this farm bill provides much-needed certainty and predictability for all producers – of all crops – across all regions across the country.”
    New farmers and farms looking to diversify will benefit from programs like the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, value-added producer grants, and the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program – all of which will receive permanent, mandatory funding under the new bill. In addition, $300 million will be invested into the prevention and response for animal pests and disease.
    The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 may very well serve as the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel – a factor to turn things around for agriculture and dairy in particular.