IDFA’s legislative affairs team will be working on a number of policy-related priorities for 2021.
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Participants in the Dairy-Tech Online Dairy Market Overview were told of an increase in dairy sales during the lockdowns. Pic: Getty Images/brebca

With a new administration and Congress now in place, policymakers at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are beginning to focus on policy issues important to the dairy industry. While COVID-19 continues to attract most of the attention in Washington, there could be changes to other federal policies and programs that would affect dairy processors. Here are some of the priorities the International Dairy Foods Association’s (IDFA) legislative affairs team will be working to achieve in 2021.

Appropriations

Congress will soon begin to consider legislation to fund the federal government for fiscal year 2022. IDFA will be asking our congressional champions to include more money for the Healthy Fluid Milk Incentives Projects, a pilot program designed to encourage families in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to consume more fluid milk. The first three pilot programs will be launched in Texas in May, and additional funding will allow more pilots to be initiated in other parts of the country later this year.

Trade

Trade is critically important to our industry. In just over a decade, U.S. dairy exports have risen from $2.2 billion to almost $6 billion, and they now account for approximately one day’s worth of milk produced each week.

To ensure the United States can expand dairy exports to new overseas markets, we need to reauthorize Trade Promotion Authority so the new administration can more easily negotiate trade agreements without congressional interference. We also need to make sure Canada is held accountable to the commitments it made for dairy products in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Child nutrition reauthorization

Congress is poised to make major changes to child nutrition programs for the first time in several years. Given that most Americans, including school-age children, consume significantly less dairy than recommended by the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, we should change these programs to remedy this deficiency.

Specifically, we need to ensure kids continue to have access to nutritious and good-tasting milk, including flavored milk, as part of the School Meals Program. We should also expand the milk options that are available to families that participate in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

Recourse loans for dairy processors

On the COVID-19 front, we are urging USDA to implement the recourse loan program for dairy processors that was authorized in the COVID-19 relief package enacted in December 2020. Loans available under this program will allow dairy processors to secure credit against their inventory, ensuring these job creators have the working capital they need to make it through the crisis. We will also be encouraging USDA to make additional purchases of dairy products for donation to families in need.

The 2023 farm bill

Congress is also likely to begin laying the groundwork for the next farm bill this year. While the current farm bill does not expire until September 2023, we expect the House and Senate Agriculture Committees to hold hearings over the next several months to explore which policies are working and which programs might need to be improved.

As part of this discussion, IDFA will be working to ensure dairy cooperatives, processors and producers continue to have access to meaningful risk management tools to address market price fluctuations.

Immigration

The Biden administration has also called on Congress to reform our nation’s immigration policies. IDFA and other food and agriculture organizations will be actively engaged in this debate to encourage policymakers to take steps to ensure dairy farmers and processing plants have access to an adequate legal labor force.

It will be important for the dairy industry to educate the new Congress and administration to achieve our policy goals this year. We look forward to working with our industry colleagues to make a difference for dairy in 2021!

Last month, 14 of our dairy farms in Maine, as well as dozens of dairy farms across northern New England, got an unexpected and disappointing notice from Danone of North America saying that they were discontinuing their contracts with our organic dairy farmers in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and elsewhere.

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