Representatives of the nation’s dairy producers say they’d like the chance to contribute to hearings that would take place under new legislation offered in the Senate.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., introduced the Dairy Pricing Opportunity Act Wednesday, which calls on the Department of Agriculture to hold hearings on federal milk marketing order reform within six months of the bill’s passage.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Gillibrand said the hearings would allow USDA to “get direct testimony from farmers across the country about what they want.” The bill, she said, is meant to advance the farm bill process and potentially set the stage for broader pricing reforms.

“I’ve been very frustrated in the farm bill process; I’ve wanted to renegotiate how we price dairy for literally 10 years, and I’ve been told no every time,” she said. “So this is at least a bipartisan start well in advance of the farm bill to have these hearings.”

The bill follows a September dairy pricing hearing in a Senate Ag subcommittee chaired by Gillibrand. At that hearing, producers said income lost due to formula changes exceeded $750 million.

National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern said the bill “adds bipartisan momentum to a range of critical milk pricing discussions.” 

“NMPF is continuing to work with USDA and Congress on how best to remedy deficiencies in the Class I mover formula and fully recoup $750 million in unintended losses felt by farmers of all sizes,” he said. “NMPF also is leading discussions on a broad range of Federal Milk Marketing Order reform issues important to producers in all regions of the country. We look forward to pursuing policy improvements that will serve all dairy producers more equitably and effectively.” 

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A coalition of Midwest dairy groups – the Dairy Business Association, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, Iowa State Dairy Association, Minnesota Milk Producers Association, Nebraska State Dairy Association and South Dakota Dairy Producers – also welcomed the legislation.

The bill, the groups said in a joint statement, “leaves the door open to considering various proposals, such as the Class III Plus proposal put forth early this year, and the ability to address other areas of the system that are just as urgent, such as increasing price transparency.”

Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association that represents the nation's dairy processors, said the group hopes to find "a solution that the entire industry can get behind."

"If we’re going to be a more resilient, sustainable dairy sector able to respond to shifting consumer preferences, we must ensure that the full supply chain remains competitive into the future," he said. "IDFA members continue to support market based FMMO policies and would support a process to develop a collaborative solution that unites the industry, similar to efforts related to the 2018 Farm Bill."

While a pricing formula change and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have brought troubles to many producers, aid from the Biden administration has softened the blow, some industry officials say. Competing industry proposals are also emerging as different groups seek a solution to the pricing woes.

Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, are cosponsors of Gillibrand’s bill.

Story updated at 5 p.m. EST to include IDFA statement.

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