If the large and attentive crowd that turned out in Visalia, Calif., on Tuesday to discuss the "Foundation for the Future" (FFTF) dairy policy proposal by National Milk Producers Federation reflected anything, it is how elusive unity and consensus remain within the industry.

This was an open and brief (two hours) event organized by and aimed at producers, and it showed in the nearly 200 people who attended. Presentations were concise and without frills. Opinions were given without sugar coating. So were questions. California Dairy Campaign and Milk Producers Council jointly presented the forum.

It was clear from both presentations and audience comments that opinions of the plan fall into two camps: those who are reluctant and cautious about its complexity, sweeping changes, and lack of outcome certainty; and those who are certain the current system is broken, that maintaining it will result in total industry ruin, and even with its possible shortcomings FFTF presents real hope for a brighter future. There were, however, three points of clear agreement that emerged:

1. The dairy industry desperately needs something better.
2. The dairy industry can't survive another 2009.
3. The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) is not our friend.

A key point that was emphasized repeatedly during the meeting was the reality that 21st century politics demands that any new dairy policy idea must be able to meet two rigid criteria: Can it work? Can it be passed?

At the end of the day, our sense of the atmosphere in the room was that producers are more afraid of maintaining a status quo they know drove them to the brink of bankruptcy, than the uncertainty of a plan that is entirely new.