MADISON, Wis. – Dairy farmers could soon have a direct say in the laws, regulations and policies that affect them most, thanks to a new act designed to address pressing issues in the dairy industry. The Dairy Pricing and Policy Commission Act of 2020 gives dairy farmers a seat at a table tasked with diving into matters near and dear to the dairy producer’s heart.
    “If you are a dairy farmer, this is a historic opportunity to have our voices heard from the highest levels of leadership to correct some long overdue deficiencies in dairy policy,” said Joe Bragger, dairy farmer and Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation president.
    Envisioned to be a part of the next farm bill, the act would benefit dairy farmers by creating a commission whose job will be to provide pricing transparency, address supply chain issues, find more opportunities for dairy exports and increase the competitiveness of dairy products in the marketplace.
    “There are a lot of factors going on that require us to take a new look at dairy policy,” said Bragger, who farms with his family in Buffalo County, milking 400 cows and cropping about 1,300 acres. “We’ve seen shocks on our supply chain during the COVID-19 pandemic and inelasticity in our production systems being impacted. Prices have rebounded, but we got hit with another blow – producer price differentials. The announced Class III price is not reflective of what farmers are receiving. Deductions are being made to this amount, and these deductions hurt us.”
    The Dairy Pricing and Policy Commission Act of 2020 will direct the United States Secretary of Agriculture to form a commission consisting of one member of a national consumer organization, three members representing land grant universities, one member representing the food and retail beverage sector, six dairy producers, three dairy processors and two dairy industry experts.
    These individuals would be charged with creating legislative, regulatory and market-based policy recommendations to address:
    – Responding to periods of heightened dairy production during low prices by considering better supply chain coordination and market price signals.
    – Enhancing the competitiveness of American dairy producers in world market.
    – Evaluating and identifying challenges and opportunities for new markets for dairy exports.
    – Ensuring that Federal Milk Marketing Orders and FMMO rule makings are transparent and provide a fair return to producers regardless of the end product for which their milk is used.
    – Ensuring the competitiveness of dairy products with other competing products in the marketplace is preserved and enhanced.
    “We need to develop some transparency in our pricing,” said Derek Orth, a dairy farmer from Lancaster who supports the Dairy Pricing and Policy Commission Act. “There’s so much that goes into what we get paid on that doesn’t make any sense. Creating this committee could help simplify things and help all of us understand what goes into our milk check.”
    The act was created in partnership between Reps. Ron Kind and Mike Gallagher and WFBF. The bill is comprehensive in nature; therefore, the commission would be looking at a host of issues, including the importance of trade and enhancing worldwide demand for dairy products.
    “We have big issues in dairy, and we need to look at all legs to position dairy better,” Bragger said. “We need consistency to the supply chain. We need to balance supply with demand a little closer to eliminate waste and improve price and possibly efficiencies.”
    Orth agreed.
    “In the last eight months, we saw a shortage of milk in the grocery store, but farmers were dumping milk down the drain because of distribution issues,” he said. “I hope this committee can come up with ideas to alleviate distribution issues like this in the future.”
    Orth milks 250 registered Jerseys and farms around 400 acres with his wife, Charisse, and his parents, Randy and Laura.
    Shedding light on specific areas that impede progress, the goal would be for the commission to make strides that can ultimately improve profitability for dairy farmers.   
    Bragger said Wisconsin has lost nearly 9,000 dairy farms since 2003 – a loss that has impacted local communities and the industries within those communities in a negative way.
    “We’re doing our job as farmers to get product out there in great volume and in an efficient manner, and it’s to our own demise often times,” Bragger said. “If we’re profitable, we can support our communities, and then everyone wins.”  
    When it comes to pricing policies, Bragger sees farmers getting the short end of the stick in many situations.
    “We have a gift in Wisconsin – our wonderful diversity of cheese and how much value it adds to milk; however, farmers are not really capturing this value,” Bragger said. “A better transparency of pricing is needed. Farmers are too far down the chain. A complete overhaul of dairy pricing is necessary and long overdue.”
    Orth said dairy farmers have dealt with unstable price markets and price volatility for decades.
    “I’m hoping this committee can create solutions to stabilize volatility and stabilize markets for the future,” he said. “It’s hard to create a budget when you make a lot of money some years, and then other years, you’re making a third of what you were at your peak.”
    Bragger encourages dairy farmers and supportive consumers to call their member of Congress and ask for their support of the act.
    “This discussion of dairy reform is very timely, and we want to get this on the radar screen of elected officials,” Bragger said. “We have to start early. There are a lot of channels to go through to get this into the next farm bill.”