A key dairy-state lawmaker and Senate Agriculture Committee member hopes the 2023 farm bill will help expand rural broadband service, and he also believes that it's also critical for Congress to address ag labor needs. 

Vermont Democrat Peter Welch, who chairs the rural development subcommittee of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said on Agri-Pulse Newsmakers he's focused on broadband expansion. "You cannot have a rural community without high-speed internet," he said. 

Welch also welcomed formation of a House Agriculture Committee working group that is supposed to recommend changes to the H-2A via program.

"There is bipartisan support to deal with the labor shortage," said Welch. However, he stopped short of saying ag labor reforms could pass this Congress. 

Welch also is focused on dairy policy, representing a small state with over 500 dairy farms

USDA could deal with federal milk marketing order reform this year. While the agency has yet to make a decision about a formal hearing process, the department has received 38 proposals from 12 different organizations concerned with dairy policy. At a pre-hearing in June, USDA heard from industry representatives on dairy processing costs, fluid milk prices and more.

Welch said despite the complex current debate over the federal milk marketing order, "there is some stability" in dairy policy.

“There's always a challenge in terms of what the margin is for our farmers. And the cost inputs, of course, have been increasing significantly,” Welch said. “For a period the milk price was going up, but the bottom line always is, how do you protect when that margin shrinks?”

Major dairy groups disagree about adjustments to the federal milk marketing order (FMMO) – the process by which the USDA establishes provisions for dairy processors to purchase fresh milk from dairy farmers.

Dairy Farmers of America, a cooperative of 83 processors, recently pulled out of the International Dairy Foods Association over IDFA's FMMO petition.

Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, said on Newsmakers the dairy industry is united about one major piece of the milk marketing puzzle - requiring USDA to conduct mandatory cost surveys on processor manufacturing costs. 

“They have a whole department of people that monitor that each day of the year, and they're experts in that and it's a complicated process across the dairy chain,” Dykes said.

Dykes said it is a policy that IDFA, along with the American Farm Bureau and the National Milk Producers Federation, are united on and are working to get in the upcoming Farm Bill.

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Dykes said USDA mandatory cost surveys would provide consistent data that can be updated across the entire dairy manufacturing industry.

Welch also responded to the Food and Drug Administration’s recent voluntary guidance on milk labeling, saying “it's really a point of pride for farmers that milk is milk.”

The FDA recommends companies include statements that make clear the nutritional differences between milk and plant-based alternatives.

“The bottom line here is a lot of this milk labeling is an acknowledgment to our dairy farmers … who work incredibly hard. Often times generational family farms are under enormous pressure,” Welch said. “They're entitled to some respect for the work that they do.”

This week’s Agri-Pulse Newsmakers can be viewed at Agri-Pulse.com.

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