Congress must do additional work to ensure dairy farmers are fairly compensated for losses rooted in a change to the pricing formula for Class I milk, a leader of Agri-Mark Cooperative and a member of NMPF’s Economic Policy Committee said today in a hearing called by Senate Agriculture Committee dairy subcommittee chair Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
The hearing focused on issues related to milk pricing and the Federal Milk Marketing Order system, which has shown strains during the COVID-19 pandemic due in large part to flaws in the current Class I mover and its ripple effects through dairy revenues. The pandemic “has created an even greater urgency to revisit orders,” said Catherine H. de Ronde, vice president for economic and legislative affairs for Agri-Mark, based in Middlebury, VT, in her testimony. “Negative PPDs had milk checks looking incredibly bizarre, de-pooling at a level never-before seen became a new phenomenon for many. The change to the underlying Class I mover was a key catalyst of these outcomes.”
The 2018 Farm Bill changed the Class I mover, which determines the price of fluid milk under the Federal Milk Marketing Order system, at the urging of dairy processors who sought greater price predictability. The change contributed to substantial market volatility last year and has led to an estimated $750 million in losses for farmers compared to the previous Class I formula. Without a fix, dairy farmers will permanently bear unfair and unnecessary price risk compared to processors during times of unusual market volatility.
USDA plans to mitigate last year’s losses somewhat through its Pandemic Market Volatility Assistance Program, which will reimburse farmers for $350 million of those losses. But that initiative distributes payments unevenly, requiring further remedies to equitably fill the gap for producers of all sizes.
“The National Milk Producers Federation appreciates the work of Senators Gillibrand and Hyde-Smith for today’s initial examination of crucial milk pricing issues,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF. “Dairy farmers have done their best to navigate this ongoing crisis, aided in part by necessary disaster assistance. But without equitable assistance, many family dairy farmers across the nation will needlessly struggle from the effects of the Class I mover change they’ve already felt. And without a change in the mover, we can only expect these struggles will recur.”
Gillibrand leads the Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, Poultry, Local Food Systems, and Food Safety and Security. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) serves as the subcommittee’s Ranking Member.