USDA has scheduled a pre-hearing information session for Friday, June 16, to get more input from the dairy industry on a National Milk Producers Federation petition to amend five provisions of the federal milk marketing order, as well as on a narrower request from the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA).

In an action plan released June 1, USDA said it hasn't decided whether to hold a formal hearing but wanted to offer an opportunity for interested parties to submit additional proposals regarding potential amendments to the current pricing provisions. The plan calls for pricing-related proposals to be sent to USDA by June 14, with the pre-hearing session to follow on June 16 at 10 a.m. ET.

USDA staff will be able to ask questions of the submitters at the information session, and modified proposals will be due the following Tuesday, June 20. If USDA decides to move forward with a full hearing, it will publish a hearing notice in late July, followed by a hearing, tentatively scheduled for Aug. 23. The pre-hearing is the first of several actions USDA must take before presenting a proposal for a final vote by dairy producers.

NMPF wants USDA to consider amending five provisions related to increasing manufacturing allowances, returning to the “higher of” as the mover for Class I milk prices, updating the milk composition factors, removing barrel cheese from the Class III price formula and updating the Class I price surface.

“We’re gratified that USDA recognizes the comprehensive nature of our proposal and are looking forward to it being considered in full, because the whole of our plan adds up to more than the sum of its individual parts,” said NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern. “We will bring the same level of dedication and preparation to this part of the process that we did in drafting our own plan, which included more than 150 meetings and wide consultation across dairy producers and the entire industry.”

NMPF’s proposal received support letters from many industry participants, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, Farm First Cooperative and Land O’Lakes.  

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Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, the third largest cooperative in the country in terms of milk volume, said the hearing should be delayed until after the farm bill discussion. Tim Trotter, Edge CEO, said in a letter to Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator Bruce Summers that some ideas cannot be discussed in a hearing and instead require legislative changes.

“As you know, a federal order hearing is costly, time-consuming and takes considerable staff resources. If the rules of the road may change amid the process, we believe it makes the most sense to delay any hearing, regardless of scope, until after the next farm bill is completed,” Trotter said.

USDA said IDFA and WCMA provided the agency additional information on May 30 on their request to increase manufacturing allowances, and those proposals are now considered additional proposals in conjunction with NMPF’s request, USDA said.

“IDFA looks forward to remaining constructive in our engagement with our members and USDA as these issues advance,” said Matt Herrick, IDFA's senior vice president of public affairs and communications, in an email to Agri-Pulse.

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