NMPF President’s Update – August 7, 2020

Negotiations Founder on New Coronavirus Relief Bill – Negotiations this week between House and Senate Democrats and the White House on the latest coronavirus relief bill have proven to be particularly contentious, with no breakthrough in the offing as most members of both chambers have left Washington to begin their August recess.

It seems inconceivable that the two parties won’t grudgingly compromise to pass a last stimulus package less than three months before the November elections, but political brinksmanship seems the order of the day right now, so it looks like it will take a while longer to reach a deal.

The key sticking points between the Senate bill released last week and the House bill approved in May are the overall level of spending, the scope of additional unemployment benefits that ended this week, along with the amount to be allocated for food stamps, as well as aid to state and local governments. The Senate bill contains another $20 billion for USDA to help farmers with the COVID-19 pandemic.  Unlike the House bill adopted in May, the Senate language does not have specific parameters about how USDA can spend that money.

During recent deliberations in the Senate over their relief bill, NMPF also worked successfully to include language bolstering the Paycheck Protection Program for farmers. The new Senate proposal addresses the problem that our sole proprietor, independent contractor, and self-employed farmers have previously faced when using their net farm profit figure from their Schedule F income tax form to apply for a PPP loan.

NMPF, Other Ag Groups Voice CFAP Payment Limit, Deadline Concerns to USDA – As congressional negotiations over additional relief have broken down, we asked USDA to extend the Aug. 28 sign-up deadline for the current Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), as well as to exercise more flexibility in awarding that aid.

NMPF joined an array of agricultural organizations today on a letter urging Agriculture Secretary Perdue to give farmers more time to enroll in the program, and also to exercise additional flexibility in making the resulting payments made to producers. To help dairy farmers frustrated by certain of USDA’s interpretations that limit the program’s value, we authored language in the coalition letter addressing the program’s direct attribution model of calculating payments, and seeking treatment of farms held in trust as corporations, in order to maximize benefits to dairy farmers of all sizes. NMPF also added language to the letter urging reconsideration of the CFAP payment limitation as a path forward is contemplated for spending the additional $14 billion provided to the Commodity Credit Corporation.

USDA reported Monday that it has made $6.8 billion in CFAP payments, with $1.3 billion going to dairy farmers. Signup (for now, anyway) is scheduled to end Aug. 28.

NMPF Organizing Public Forums on Future of Ag Trade – As  part of our membership in the coalition Farmers for Free Trade, NMPF is helping organize a series of virtual town halls called AgTalks this summer. These events seek to elevate the voice of farmers and agricultural leaders in the important national discussions happening on trade and the resiliency of agricultural supply chains.

The latest session in the AgTalks series was this Wednesday in Minnesota, where NMPF Board member Sheryl Meshke, Co-President & CEO of Associated Milk Producers, Inc., served as a panelist in the online event. Meshke discussed how coronavirus has disrupted the dairy supply chain and shared her perspective on the critical importance of international trade.

We’re putting together another AgTalks event in Wisconsin on September 1 to discuss the importance of expanding trade opportunities for America’s dairy farmers and the harm that international trade barriers have on the domestic farm economy.

NMPF, USDEC Urge Oversight of Canada’s USMCA Commitments – We continue to express our concerns to the U.S. government about whether Canada will abide by its dairy access commitments under the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.  In a letter sent this week to USTR and USDA by Jaime Castaneda, NMPF and USDEC Senior Vice President of Policy Strategy and Trade, we highlighted examples of Canada’s dairy Tariff Rate Quota (TRQ) violations.

Noting Canada’s history of evading its trade obligations, we pointed out that the country’s TRQ allocations under USMCA “appear once again to be designed to discourage full utilization of the TRQs or foster lower returns for U.S. dairy products.” Our letter comes at the same time the Trump administration is reimposing tariffs on Canadian aluminum exports.

U.S. Dairy Interests Protect ‘Gruyere’ as Generic Cheese Term in U.S. Patent Office Ruling – Kudos to Jaime Castaneda and Shawna Morris for success in spearheading a coalition effort that defeated Swiss and French efforts aimed at preventing American cheesemakers from calling their U.S. produced product Gruyere.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this week rejected an effort by the European gruyere associations to trademark the term in the U.S. Jaime and Shawna organized and led an extensive legal effort through the NMPF and USDEC-supported Consortium for Common Food Names to demonstrate that gruyere is a generic style of cheese made and sold for years by numerous U.S. cheesemakers.

The USPTO agreed with CCFN’s arguments and turned down the request. The European groups can appeal the decision, but CCFN notes this is a very positive development and the USPTO decision is a strong one.

My CEO’s Corner column this month addresses the importance of exports during a year of rollercoaster prices. In spite of the incredible volatility we’ve seen in supply, demand and prices, U.S. dairy’s continued evolution into an export powerhouse has quietly been reaching new milestones.

Dairy Stakeholders Encouraged to Comment on Dietary Guidelines – We’re asking dairy stakeholders to weigh in by next week with the USDA on the recently-released update to the federal dietary guidelines.  This link will allow you to send prepared comments to the USDA as it finalizes the official 2020 Dietary Guidelines, which will determine government nutrition policies until 2025.

In particular, we are encouraging comment on how USDA determines which varieties of milk can be served in school meal programs and federal food and nutrition assistance programs. The deadline for submissions is this Thursday, August 13. It is important for dairy stakeholders to be heard on this issue, according to Miquela Hanselman, NMPF’s manager for regulatory affairs, in a recent podcast.

NMPF Names 2020 National Dairy Leadership Scholars – As part of our mission to encourage research into academic areas that benefit dairy farmers and cooperatives, we recently awarded scholarships to three graduate students and one new Ph.D. student:

  • Ellen Lai, Ph.D. Integrative Genetics and Genomics, whose research at the University of California-Davis focuses on improving production and welfare by providing genetic tools to reduce lameness caused by foot warts and sole ulcers;
  • Conor McCabe, M.S. Animal Science at Purdue University in Indiana, whose research focuses on evaluating tissue mobilization in transition dairy cows; and
  • Mateus Peiter, Ph.D. Animal Science at the University of Minnesota, whose research focuses on the use of automated technologies to improve animal health and herd management on dairy farms.

NMPF also sponsors student awards through the American Dairy Science Association. The Richard M. Hoyt Award was created to recognize research efforts with direct application to the problems of the U.S. dairy industry. This year’s winner, Erin Horst, received her Ph.D. from Iowa State University with a research focus on the consequences of immune activation on energetic and calcium homeostasis and its relevance to transition cow disorders.

Given that this year’s annual meeting will be virtual and thus we will not be able to hold a fundraising raffle, we are encouraging members to make contributions that will go directly to the Scholarship Fund. Contributions will enable us to support the best and brightest academic research students working in fields that are critically important to our producer-members. Please reach out to me or to Nicole Ayache,  our staff liaison to the NMPF Scholarship Committee, by September 30th to contribute.

Finally, I’m pleased to announce that we have promoted Tony Rice to Trade Policy Manager for NMPF. Tony comes from a dairy farm family in Pennsylvania and joined NMPF last summer as our Trade Policy Coordinator. He has played an integral role on a range of trade policy activities, from the development of more robust trade data analysis to creating materials on numerous trade policy topics to assisting in the geographical indications fight. In his new role, he will play a greater role in managing projects supporting our efforts to boost U.S. dairy exports and improve market access.

I’m also pleased that we have hired our first-ever communications director for the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Program. Leighona Bernstein comes to the FARM team from CropLife International to direct communications efforts to both internal and external FARM stakeholders. She will help share the great story of responsible stewardship practiced by dairy farmers in areas including animal care, the environment and workforce management. A native of Colorado, Leighona was a member of the equestrian team at Oklahoma State University and worked as a journalist writing feature stories for an Oklahoma magazine before her move to Washington.

Please join me in congratulating these two valuable members of the NMPF staff.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your weekend.