A new vision for U.S. dairy
Today's dairy policy is a disaster for farmers, rural communities, consumer welfare, the environment, farmworkers, and animal welfare. There is a better way.
NFFC's new Milk from Family Dairies Act is based on five key elements:
- A fair price for farmers based on their costs of production
- Balancing milk supply and demand
- Import and export controls
- Measures to break up dairy market concentration
- Rebuilding regional dairy infrastructure
Dairy policy based on these elements has broad support across the farm and food system. More than 90 farm, food, social, labor, and environmental justice organizations have signed on in support of dairy reform with these tenets, including National Farmers Union, Farm Aid, the Teamsters Dairy Conference, Migrant Justice, Health Care Without Harm, Center for Food Safety, and many more. See the full list here.
Read the press release. Press: Contact Jordan Treakle, NFFC National Programs and Policy Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Milk from Family Dairies Act
- Download the Milk from Family Dairies Act full policy proposal
NFFC developed the Milk from Family Dairies Act (MFDA) based on the tenets of NFFC’s 2007 Food from Family Farms Act, elements of our members’ dairy policy proposals, and supply management systems in Canada and elsewhere. The proposal went through many iterations with feedback from members and a wide range of allies and partners.
Besides the five fundamental principles above, the MFDA includes these specifics:
- Supply and demand are kept in balance through a mechanism called the production base, which determines how much milk each dairy farmer may sell. For every hundred pounds of milk in their production base, the farmer will be paid a fair price based on their costs of production.
- Production base will have no monetary value and cannot be bought, sold, traded, or combined. The experience of family fishermen and Canadian dairy farmers shows that monetization of quota in other supply management systems quickly leads to consolidation and increased corporate influence.
- Farmers may grow their operations by taking over the production base of a retiring farmer and discarding their own.
- In the rollout period, buyouts for megadairies and loan restructuring will be available.
- New dairy farmers are a priority for the MFDA. Production base is available for beginning dairy farmers, along with an apprenticeship program and resources for new farmers from historically excluded communities.
- MFDA includes a parallel system for the organic market, which also includes strong enforcement of organic standards.
WHY A NEW DAIRY POLICY?
One-third of all U.S. milk comes from large dairies with more than 2,500 cows, including some “megadairies” milking tens of thousands of cows. These operations contribute to lower farmer milk prices and depressed rural economies and produce huge amounts of water-polluting manure and climate-warming methane. And yet these are the operations getting bailouts: the top 1% of Wisconsin farmers got about half a million dollars in pandemic relief funds, while the bottom 80% got just $8,700. Since 1995, the top 20% of recipients of all taxpayer-funded dairy subsidies got 72% of funds.
Meanwhile, smaller family-scale dairies, which were once the economic backbone of rural communities, can mitigate climate change, and improve soil health and preserve open space, are going out of business by the day, with low milk prices forcing them to get big or get out. Seventy percent of dairy farms went out of business from 2000 to 2020, even while milk production increased by over 130%. In 2000, over 105,000 farms milked 9.2 million cows; in 2020, just under 32,000 farms were milking 9.4 million cows.
The dairy industry has always been complicated. Cows, land, buildings, and milking equipment make entering dairy farming a big upfront investment with significant debt. Dairy farmers have little negotiating power with processors (the companies or cooperatives that bottle milk and make dairy products), because milk is so perishable, much like seafood. Since today’s milk won’t keep and there will be more coming tomorrow, farmers often have no choice but to take the price the processor offers.
Historically in the U.S. and Europe and currently in Canada, milk policy has been based on supply management. The system balances the supply and demand of milk (too much milk lowers farmer prices, while a milk deficit raises consumer prices), which ensures consumers a reliable supply of milk and guarantees farmers a fair price for what they sell. Without dairy supply management, milk prices can be so volatile that farmers often don’t know if their next milk check will even cover their costs of production or if they will have to choose between paying their electric bill or their groceries.
A supply management program like the Milk from Family Dairies Act will give dairy farmers the economic security to invest in their farms, their animals, their communities, and their workers. It’s time for a change.
Learn more about the dairy industry:
- NFFC Backgrounder on the Dairy Crisis
- Why dairy cooperatives often do not represent their members’ interests: How Rural America Got Milked
- Supply Management: A Farmer Living Wage
- More on supply management: Farmers Are Struggling To Make Ends Meet. This Controversial Policy Could Help.
- A report from our friends at FoodPrint: The FoodPrint of Dairy
NFFC’s LONG HISTORY OF DAIRY ADVOCACY
Dairy farmers have been part of NFFC’s membership since the beginning. The loss of family dairy farms has been personal: our members have fought as dairy advocates while struggling with the financial stress of dairy farming, and we have watched them sell off their herds. Some are still fighting, others have left farming, and still others are no longer with us – many having gone far too early in this difficult profession. We remember Randy Jasper, Donna Hall, John Kinsman, Bryan Wolfe, Dixon Terry, and others.
NFFC was an early opponent of the use of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) in dairy production and an advocate for strong organic standards, including a pasture requirement for organic dairy. We have always advocated for fair prices for farmers and a diversified farming system. Our 2007 Food from Family Farms Act proposed fair farm prices and supply management for commodities, including dairy.
In 2018, a new dairy crisis hit the headlines as milk prices fell to five-year lows. Dozens of dairy farms were going out of business by the week and the desperation led some farmers to commit suicide. When the federal government failed to act, NFFC and our partners wrote to Congress and USDA laying out steps for immediate action. USDA subsequently adopted a milk purchasing initiative as we suggested. Our letter also proposed a farmer milk price and a supply management system. While these have not yet been adopted, the conversation around them has changed significantly in the last three years and we are optimistic as we look towards the next farm bill.