Milk Minute: Relationships you can count on during unprecedented times

By Sheila Burkhardt, MMPA Senior Director of Member and Government Relations

In the early stages of dealing with the impact of COVID-19 on the dairy industry, it was clear the dairy industry was heading into unprecedented and catastrophic times. The sudden closure of food service venues such as schools, colleges and restaurants were going to severely impact milk sales since nearly half of cheese and butter produced are consumed in foodservice markets.

To help address the severity of the situation, we worked closely with our national and state partners such as National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and Ag Leaders of Michigan (ALM) to communicate the dairy industry’s urgent need for assistance. NMPF and IDFA worked together to develop a comprehensive proposal with a unified message to present to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the White House to help the dairy industry address the challenges created by the pandemic. NMPF represents dairy farmer owned cooperatives and IDFA represents the dairy processor community. A joint proposal between the two organizations helped send a unified message on behalf of the dairy industry.
The comprehensive and unprecedented proposal was needed to address the dire situation suddenly confronting the dairy industry and once it was released, the relationships that we established over the years came to the forefront. It did not take long to realize that the relationships built in the good or normal times are ones that you can count on during the unprecedented and challenging times.

We, along with others in the dairy industry, utilized our contacts to members of Congress, USDA and even the White House to communicate the crisis the dairy industry was facing. Members of the MMPA team communicated with contacts in Washington D.C. via conference calls, speaking with Congressman John Moolernaar, Senator Debbie Stabenow and Jamie Clover Adams at USDA and others about the current milk price situation, impact of the abrupt drop in foodservice sales, decreased access to export markets and importance of dairy product donations to the food bank system in the trying times. The message on those calls was clear: additional assistance would be needed because dairy producers simply could not withstand the prices the futures market was showing at the time following five years of depressed markets.

Following the outreach efforts, details of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) were released and fortunately contained several support features for dairy producers including direct payments, a paycheck protection program and government purchases of dairy products. The dire situation we had communicated came to fruition as we saw milk prices dip to historic low levels for April and May production. The importance of government assistance programs combined with risk management programs like the Farm Bill’s Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program all play an important component in helping to offset the low milk prices currently being experienced.

While we are thankful for the brighter market outlook for the last half of 2020, there is still more work to do in lessening the current and future impact of the pandemic on the dairy industry. We are continuing our efforts in reaching out to the relationships we established in the normal times to help us through what lies ahead.

This article was originally published in the July/August 2020 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »