The past year of dairy market volatility has once again stirred the pot of discontent with current milk marketing frameworks and raised the question, “Is federal order reform necessary?” While Hoard’s Dairyman DairyLivestream is in the middle of a five-part series addressing this question, the April 7 episode honed in specifically on the steps and considerations necessary for Federal Milk Marketing Order reform to become a reality.

USDA’s Erin Taylor outlined many of the steps required to amend federal orders, but perhaps most important is a key understanding of the process. By statute, USDA is required to present federal order reform suggestions for a vote by producers.

“We have to balance the producer, handler, and consumer views. That’s specified in statute, and we’re supposed to make our decisions based on the evidence provided in the hearing,” Taylor said. “When we go to the voting process, it’s only producers that vote. So, while we’ve considered all perspectives and tried to reach some conclusion that balances those, there’s only one party that actually votes on the order.”

In the farmers’ hands

While producers get to do the voting, they only have the option of voting yes to the entire order as amended or voting no.

“Once federal order reform is deemed necessary by USDA, going backward is not an option. You get to pick the one that they’ve now decided is best or ‘go commando’; that’s your choice,” Cornell University’s Andy Novakovic said of the voting process.

“We look at the orders as a package,” Taylor further explained. “If we allowed producers to vote just on the amendment, then they could just pick and choose what amendments they wanted to go forward.” That might not be equitable for consumers or milk handlers.

Novakovic echoed those thoughts. “Everyone can pick out some part that they deemed to be better for them. That’s cherry-picking. Instead, your job is to balance all of that as best you can,” he elaborated.

Because the voting either results in a federal order with amendments or with the termination of an order, it is critical that a large amount of data and testimonies are collected on the proposed order amendments. It is a painstaking endeavor to collect the data and information and is a leading reason why reform takes so long.

The views of the producers, handlers, and consumers are particularly important, and change is possible when the problem is clearly defined and good data can back up suggested changes and improvements. While milk marketing remains top of mind for many dairy producers, the path to change is by no means clear and easy.

An ongoing series of events

The next broadcast of DairyLivestream will be on Wednesday, April 21 at 11 a.m. CDT. Each episode is designed for panelists to answer over 30 minutes of audience questions. If you haven’t joined a DairyLivestream broadcast yet, register here. Registering once registers you for all future events.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2021
April 8, 2021
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