“Building unity has never been tougher and more important,” Western United Dairymen (WUD) president Jamie Bledsoe told those gathered in Visalia, March 17, for WUD’s annual convention. “How we handle volatility and risk is critical. Ordinarily, we would like to be able to forecast out five years. But for now we need to focus on the next 12 months and decide what important issues we have to tackle.”
Bledsoe pointed out WUD membership “overwhelmingly supports” the adoption of California (enhanced) standards for milk solids nationally. WUD, working with others across the nation, is forming a coalition to promote the “Standardization of Milk Solids” as law. “Let’s put more milk in the milk!” urged Bledsoe.
Bledsoe acknowledged the upcoming Farm Bill debate will revolve around contentious debates about milk pricing policy. WUD has been “actively engaged” with the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) on its Foundation for the Future policy proposal.
“We have been giving them information about what we think is best for California dairy families and we will continue to be engaged,” he said. WUD’s board of directors is committed to trying to reach “some type of consensus among the California dairy industry” and will try to meet with various groups to discuss policy options.
Bledsoe called for unity among dairy producer organizations. He noted that WUD’s board of directors recently met in a strategic planning session and decided that finding common ground with other organizations on key issues would be a critical task in the coming months.
The list of issues with which there is common ground is impressive, said Bledsoe, including:
- The devastating impact of federal ethanol policy on feed costs.
- The importance of educating consumers about our business
- A proactive approach to animal welfare
- Providing a reliable and adequate water supply
- Developing global markets
- Investing in air quality research
WUD has been “adamantly opposed” to federal ethanol mandates and is “working diligently with our advocates in Washington and Sacramento to bring an end to this nonsense.” Bledsoe praised Sen. Dianne Feinstein for her recently introduced legislation that would repeal the 45-cent-per gallon subsidy for corn ethanol blenders, saving the nation approximately $6 billion a year. In addition, the bill would lower the tariff on imported ethanol to match the 45-cent-per gallon subsidy that will remain in place under Senator Feinstein’s legislation for non-corn, second generation “advanced biofuels.”
WUD has a long history of working with the California congressional delegation on responsible federal conservation and renewable energy policy, explained Bledsoe. “We thank Senator Feinstein for her efforts to effect positive change to an ethanol policy that has eroded the international competitiveness of California’s dairy families,” he said.
Global outlook strong for California exports
California is well positioned to take advantage of a steady growth in demand for U.S. dairy products, according to Mark Piper, vice president of sourcing for Fonterra (USA) Inc. Piper gave an upbeat assessment to the convention crowd, saying that California is well located to provide dairy products into an Asian market that is consuming more and more dairy products as the middle class flexes its economic clout.
Exports to China continue to surge, said Piper. “It has surprised everyone,” he said. “Cities are getting larger and the middle class is growing.” The long-term forecast for Chinese demand is favorable, in his opinion.
U.S. dairy exports have continued to rise over the past year and the overall trend for U.S. exports remains favorable, he said. “Quality expectations have risen and will continue to rise,” opening the door for increased California dairy exports, he predicted.
Myths exploded about environmental impact of dairy production
Dr. Jude Capper, assistant professor, Washington State University, had a simple message for convention attendees: All the talk about the huge carbon footprint of the dairy industry is just that—all talk, no fact. Her research shows that in 1944, it took four cows to produce the same amount of milk as one cow produced in 2007. The dairy industry’s carbon footprint must be evaluated on the basis of its production, not on a per cow basis, she argued. Using that basis, the carbon footprint per pound of milk has been reduced by two-thirds from 1944 to 2007.
“Compared to 1944, now we have bigger cows, they eat more feed, but they also give more milk, so milk yield per cow has increased four-fold since 1944,” she explains. “We’ve cut cow numbers by 60%, but we also make 59% more milk, so that cut the total carbon footprint per gallon of milk, which is huge.”
New CDFA secretary pledges partnership
Newly appointed California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross hailed a “great partnership with the California dairy industry that has been proactive and forward looking in how we address critical environmental issues so you can stay in business.” Ross delivered her remarks Thursday, March 17, at Western United Dairymen’s annual convention, in Visalia, Calif.
Ross’ upbeat comments set the tone for the convention as California dairy families set their sights on the future following two years of low milk prices coupled with feed costs that have caused severe economic distress to the California dairy industry. According to CDFA statistics, California dairy producer income plummeted from $6.9 billion in 2008 to $4.5 billion in 2009. Starting in late 2010 and continuing into early 2011, prices have begun to increase, but skyrocketing feed costs have continued to cut into producer profitability.
Ross said the Brown Administration’s highest priority was focusing on state budget issues. “If we don’t get our fiscal house in order, we can’t do anything else,” she said. She highlighted the $15 million in CDFA cuts proposed by a coalition of farm groups with which WUD participated and said further cuts could be in order. Cuts have been aimed to ensure that CDFA’s programs will continue to provide “the technical expertise needed for the sound science on which to base decisions about environmental issues.”
Addressing increasing concern about state regulations and the burden they place on farmers, Ross said that while CDFA often does not have statutory authority in regulatory areas of greatest concern to farmers, CDFA will “be an advocate for agriculture with other state agencies. I am very committed to doing this.” Ross said it was important that producer groups provide “specific examples of what’s broken” in terms of regulatory programs so that progress can be made in that area.
Another priority for Ross is promoting efforts to educate consumers about the source of their food supply. “Ag in general has been a mystery to the public,” she said. “Consumers have a new interest in where their food comes from. People have a strong desire to connect to producers. There is a tremendous opportunity to participate in conversations about where our food comes from.”
Ross acknowledged that she had a steep learning curve when it came to the dairy industry and she was taking the time to get educated. “The most important thing is how we work together,” she explained. “I am looking forward to working with you and learning more about the California dairy industry.”