Interest in some type of policy to control milk production or manage milk supply growth continues to gather steam. Even some people and some organizations that have been categorically opposed to the concept at least are keeping a more open mind.
However, a panel discussion on dairy policy options at last week's Wisconsin/Minnesota Dairy Policy Conference revealed that there is a wide range of opinions on policy options. Here is a brief report of presentations made at the conference which was co-sponsored by the Cooperative Network and the Universities of Wisconsin and Minnesota.
According to Ed Welch, general manager of AMPI, the co-op favors supply management, but no specific plan. It is not anxious to throw out the dairy price support system. The co-op liked MILC and has not supported CWT. Welch, a member of the USDA Dairy Advisory group, said that he was afraid DPIPP (the Dairy Producer Income Protection Program), being developed by National Milk Producers Federation, would be too expensive. If enacted, AMPI would say that it definitely would need to have per farm caps and payment limits.
Wisconsin Farmers Union also supports supply management, but backs no specific plan at this point, according to President Darin Von Ruden. On DPIPP, WFU would support caps and payment limits.
Wisconsin Farm Bureau supports MILC and CWT, according to President Bill Bruins. It, too, is concerned about the cost of DPIPP. WFB supports competitive pay pricing as opposed to the current product-formula pricing. It would be against any form of supply management that involves the government and prefers tax-deferred savings accounts for farmers.
Foremost Farms cooperative believes in the free market system, said Joe Weis, vice-president of member services and milk marketing. The co-op is against supply management but would look at new plans. "Deregulation is where we need to go," said Weis. "The question is how to get there from where we are." Foremost believes the dairy price support system has outlived its usefulness and that the price support program and MILC are in direct conflict with each other.
No new plans would be needed if dairy cooperatives, with 80 percent of the milk supply under their control, would just work together so processors and retailers didn't have all the power. That was the assessment of Richard Levins, professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota.
Another member of the USDA Dairy Advisory Group, Bob Wills, president of Cedar Grove Cheese, believes that there are signs of movement in dairy policy such as a willingness to eliminate the dairy price support system. He is interested in supply management but realizes how difficult it will be to get the right supply and the right milk price so the best interests of the most people would be served.
Clearly there is going to have to be a lot of give and take to reach any sort of consensus in the Midwest, let alone the nation, as a whole.