Ag committee chairman: Dairy needs united front

posted Dec. 18, 2017 10:31 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Heidi Clausen, Regional Editor |

Tough times in production agriculture and a less-than-rosy outlook for dairy, in particular, in 2018 should be good motivators for Congress to write the new farm bill on time, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, told American Dairy Coalition members via teleconference during their annual business meeting Dec. 13.

“We’ve spent the past three years preparing, holding 113 hearings and six listening sessions around the country. We recognize what’s at stake. We’re working on getting the policy right ... ,” he said. “We’re ready to go, and I think we should be able to go sometime at the end of January, February in the committee and House.”

Conaway said the new farm bill is scheduled to take effect Oct. 1, 2018. The dairy industry has some good allies and advocates on Capitol Hill, and dairy producers should support their efforts.

“As we move into the farm bill, we need a united front from dairy rather than fragmented,” he said.

Conaway also said they hope to pass an immigration bill soon that will prove beneficial to dairy farmers who hire employees. Immigration reform needs to advance, but nothing will happen before the end of the year, he said. U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., is working on a workable guest worker program and “has us in a good spot to get it done.”

Unfortunately, Conaway said, this is not a “stand-alone issue.” Broader immigration reform and programs such as E-Verify and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals also are in the mix and complicate matters. He encourages the dairy industry officials to “keep the message going” and share their anecdotal evidence with members of Congress of how important immigration reform is to their businesses and why it’s so necessary.

Tonya Van Slyke of the Northeast Dairy Producers Association said that region’s dairy industry, especially in New York, is getting some push-back from worker advocates trying to conduct so-called “worker safety trainings” on farms. Van Slyke said they’re concerned about what workers are being told and that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration helps fund these advocates.

“It seems like a huge misuse of taxpayer funds,” she said.

Conaway agreed this is concerning and said it would be looked into.

Regarding trade and the North American Free Trade Agreement, Conaway said the milk lobby in Canada is “stronger than any lobby in the U.S.” and will continue to make trade negotiations difficult for the U.S. dairy industry, but “we need to get NAFTA done quickly.”

Minnesota dairy farmer Greg Jans told Conaway that the risk-management programs available to help farmers eke out a profit need some work. While all dairy farms are different, “all have been on the breakeven side of dairy for the last couple years, and next year doesn’t look any more promising.”

Jans said the Margin Protection Program “needs some tweaks to make it more palatable for producers.” The Livestock Gross Margin insurance program is underfunded and the $20 million cap needs to be changed. Meanwhile, the American Farm Bureau has been floating around a new milk revenue program.

Conaway said they hope to lift the LGM cap by the end of this year and “work some magic” with MPP as part of the next farm bill. U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., a longtime friend of the Upper Midwest dairy industry, is again taking the lead on dairy policy.

The House Agriculture Committee last week launched a new online resource about the 2018 Farm Bill. The landing page, at https://​​farmbill, is designed to provide updates and information related to the new farm bill.

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