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.
The Milk from Family Dairies Act would ensure dairy farmers a fair price for their product while protecting costs for consumers and revitalizing rural areas - all while saving taxpayers money.
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.
THE MILK FROM FAMILY DAIRIES ACT
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, allies, and partners, including dairy farmers. Click here for an infographic overview of the Milk from Family Dairies Act, or click below to read the full proposal.
The Milk from Family Dairies Act includes these five central elements:
- Farmers are paid a fair price for their product, based on their costs of production.
- Improved dairy import and export controls.
- Strengthening regional dairy infrastructure
- Measures to break up dairy market concentration
- Supply and demand are balanced through an annually adjusted production base.
The MFDA includes these specifics:
- Supply and demand are kept in balance through an annually adjusted 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 that will meet or exceed their costs of production - ensuring that every farmer receives a living wage.
- Production base is guided by democratically elected farmers at the USDA. Production base has 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 2,000 cows, which contribute to lower farmer milk prices, depressed rural economies, and huge amounts of water-polluting manure and climate-warming methane.
Meanwhile, smaller family-scale dairies are being forced out of business every day by low milk prices. Small dairies can mitigate climate change, improve soil health, and preserve open space. In 2000, there were more than 105,000 dairy farms - in 2022, there are fewer than 30,000 dairy farms remaining in the entire US - a loss of more than seventy percent.
The dairy industry has always been complicated. Cows, land, buildings, and milking equipment make entering dairy farming a big 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.
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 not enough 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 buying groceries.
NFFC FIGHTS FOR DAIRY FARMERS
NFFC has fought for dairy farmer justice since the organization’s founding in 1986. These efforts have included:
- Advocating to end the widespread use of milk produced with bovine growth hormone (rBGH/rBST), a genetically engineered chemical hormone that increases milk production by up to 15 percent. NFFC was part of a broad coalition targeting dairy processors and retail chains to stop using milk produced with the hormone. In response to this pressure, major supermarkets and other companies have pledged not to sell the milk, and use of rBGH has fallen.
- Protesting the increased use of imported Milk Protein Concentrate (MPC), a milk-derived food additive in many common foods.
- Developing federal policy proposals - such as our Milk from Family Dairies Act - in close consultation with our dairy membership and allies, to reform national dairy policy.
In April 2018, after years of inaction by lawmakers to help dairy farmers, NFFC sent a letter to Congress signed by more than 50 organizations laying out clear steps for the federal government's response to the dairy crisis. The letter urged adoption of a floor price for farmers as part of a federal supply management program, which was rarely mentioned as a viable option then. The letter also proposed fewer restrictions on dairy donations as a short-term tactic to address the oversupply of milk; a similar program was adopted in the farm bill later in the year.
In 2021, NFFC delivered a second letter signed by more than 94 organizations calling again for the adoption of dairy policy reforms that support fair prices for farmers and that would support small and midsize dairies over corporate megadairies. Our letters increased public support for policy reforms and supply management has become a mainstream policy solution to the crisis.
Today, we are proud to partner with Wisconsin Farmers Union and many others across the country in the Dairy Together coalition, calling for emergency measures to stop the dairy crisis immediately and the adoption of a supply management program to bring long-term stability to the industry.