Policymaking in Washington, D.C., often occurs at a snail’s pace. This holds especially true early in the year when new staff are being hired, alliances are being formed, and lawmakers are testing the political winds. This year is proving to be an exception, with significant implications for dairy.

The momentum was already under way last December when Congress enacted a major coronavirus relief package that included key National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) priorities, such as the Dairy Donation Program that USDA is in the process of developing. Following that late year momentum, the Biden administration and the 117th Congress are advancing ambitious plans to stimulate the U.S. recovery from the once-in-a-lifetime COVID-19 pandemic. This robust agenda encompasses key dairy priorities, including agricultural labor reform, climate change, child nutrition, and trade.

The American Rescue Plan, enacted last month, provides additional stimulus to numerous segments of the U.S. economy. The bill, which NMPF supported, includes $3.6 billion in additional funding to facilitate purchases and donations of dairy products along with key provisions that strengthen rural resilience and equity.

Though stepped-up vaccinations are raising hopes that the pandemic can be put behind us, more work remains ahead. This additional support for producers and their cooperatives will be essential to helping the dairy sector recover from the pandemic.

Immigration and labor take the forefront

Also in March, the House of Representatives once again passed the NMPF-crafted Farm Workforce Modernization Act on a strong bipartisan vote, with 30 Republicans joining Democrats in passing the measure. The legislation, led by Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA), makes the H-2A visa program workable for dairy farmers and provides dairy’s current workers and their families with a permanent legal status, both approaches that would help meet dairy’s long-term agricultural labor needs. NMPF now turns its focus to the Senate, where Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Mike Crapo (D-ID) have signaled their intent to develop and advance a similar bipartisan measure.

Congress and the administration have begun to dive into climate and sustainability. NMPF has outlined a suite of climate policy recommendations to the House and Senate Agriculture Committees. Primary among its goals is for Congress to consider modernizing conservation programs and provide new incentives to dairy farmers to build on the significant sustainability work they are already doing. NMPF is working to drive consensus in these issues via the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance, a consortium of agriculture voices on whose Steering Committee NMPF serves.

A look at nutrition

Legislators have also begun bipartisan talks to renew child nutrition programs, which provide critical opportunities for children to consume dairy products that are a key source of essential nutrients in a child’s diet. NMPF is urging the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee to maintain the flexibility for schools to offer low-fat flavored milk, which is consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recently updated in January. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee noted last summer that school-aged children do not meet the recommended intake for dairy, making it essential that Congress allow schools to offer students the healthy, nutritious milk varieties they are most likely to consume.

It’s only fitting that, as 2020 presented daunting challenges, 2021 might be a year of ambitious initiatives. Dairy, as it should be, is an important part of these discussions, and at NMPF, creating a “new normal” that best benefits dairy is our paramount consideration for the year.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2021
April 5, 2021
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