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Ag Committee Discusses Farm Bill

Published: Friday, July 1, 2022

The House Agriculture Committee held a hearing last Wednesday to review the 2018 farm bill concerning dairy provisions. Chairman David Scott (D- Ga.) and Rep. Glenn Thompson (R- Pa.) each prepared statements concerning the issue.

"The creation of DMC was an important part of the 2018 Farm Bill, and it is vital that we understand if there are ways to further improve this tool so that it is working for farmers and the American people," Scott said. "I look forward to a productive conversation about programs, such as DMC, designed to give these farmers a safety net that works."

After the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, the 2019 COVID-19 pandemic put a strain on the dairy industry.

"Unfortunately, in the early days of the pandemic, there were some tragic examples of farmers being forced to dump milk, but I credit the resiliency of the industry in limiting those occurrences. Everyone from the producers to the processors stepped up and worked overtime to find new markets or retool their production lines to keep up with the rapidly changing demands of the shuttered economy," Thompson said.

The pandemic accentuated the need for a safety net, Scott said.

"Nothing made the importance of this safety net more apparent than the COVID-19 pandemic. We saw during the early stages of the pandemic how shocks to labor and the supply chain—some of which persist today—impacted the ability of farmers to get their products to market. As market balances were disrupted, we were able to provide Pandemic Market Volatility Funds through USDA to our farmers," Scott said.

"The dairy policy we have in place now is the result of an iterative process. To be frank, Congress missed the mark in the 2014 Farm Bill with regards to the dairy safety net, but since then, via omnibus spending bills and the 2018 Farm Bill, we have made key improvements," Rep. Glenn Thompson said. "Now, our producers have access to the Dairy Margin Coverage program, which has proven to be an effective risk management tool for dairies."

Scott and Thompson identified factors they want to address in the farm bill.

"Even as we've seen dairy prices rebound in 2022, there are several trends that are extremely troubling. The number of licensed U.S. dairy herds fell by more than half between 2002 and 2019, with an accelerating rate of decline in 2018 and 2019, even as milk production continued to grow," Scott said. "We are losing dairy farms every single day. Many of these are smaller farms, and while we have room for all sizes in the dairy industry, the loss of these smaller farms is having impacts across rural communities."

"Dairy is a nutrition powerhouse, but we lost a generation of milk-drinkers when milkfat was taken out of our schools in 2010, and we badly need to turn that around," Thompson said. "I continue to push for my bipartisan Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, which has very strong support across this Committee and Congress and hope we can make some progress there."

Scott encourages a focus on small farms.

"In that same vein, we must also pay attention to the needs of small farmers around the country. We were intentional in selecting witnesses for our stakeholder panel from multiple regions across the country," Scott said.

"This will provide us with a diversity of views and can provide insight into recent developments, such as in the Northeast, where organic farmers have struggled to identify alternative markets after a major plant closed and faced debilitating transportation issues in trying to find new markets for their milk," he added.

Thompson encourages a continuation of cooperation between the organizations involved in the reauthorizations of the farm bills.

"In the past, dairy policy was regularly one of the most contentious debates during Farm Bill reauthorizations. However, in the 2018 Farm Bill, the dairy industry worked together to achieve consensus rather than having Congress fight its battles for them," Thompson said. "I want to commend the National Milk Producers Federation and the International Dairy Foods Association for their work to foster those conversations and present a united front on critical policy debates, particularly as it relates to further modifications to the Class I mover."

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