Even God can’t hit a 1-iron

USDA’s Dairy Advisory Committee gave it a shot

By Dave Natzke

Several years ago at a gathering – mainly of dairy farmers and ag engineers, so it must have had to do with manure – a debate arose.

One faction argued that God must be an electrical engineer, given His role in designing the human brain and nervous system.

Another faction argued that, in witness of the human heart and circulatory system at work, God must be a mechanical engineer.

A third faction, however, contended The Almighty was a civil engineer, because only a civil engineer would run a liquid waste disposal system through a perfectly good recreational area. I’ll pause while you meditate on that one.

One thing missing from this story was that nobody argued God was a social engineer, probably for good reason. Social engineering seems to be a human creation, and with all the layers of committees, commissions, governments and courts, we have certainly complicated the process, if not perfected the system.

So despite all His engineering prowess, there is general consensus there are a couple of things God can’t do. First, in a widely held notion publicly expressed by golfing legend Lee Trevino, even God couldn’t hit a 1-iron. Second, under the realm of social engineering, it’s apparent even God couldn’t develop congregational unity on federal dairy policy. It’s an area He wisely stayed out of because, after all, it’s not as simple as parting the sea.

Imagine, then, the wilderness USDA’s Dairy Industry Advisory Committee (DIAC) wandered into, guided by the staff of history and a few dairy economists and policy experts. Seventeen tribal leaders and a multitude of hosts, forevermore arguing … but I digress.

Anyway, in substantially less time than it took to cross a desert, DIAC emerged on the other side. Whether they reached the Promised Land is open to interpretation. However, they have reached the doorstep of U.S. ag secretary Tom Vilsack’s office with a list of 23 items (give or take one slightly controversial issue) – presumably contained on at least four stone tablets or one slightly lengthy PowerPoint presentation, and an Adobe pdf document with supporting materials.

DIAC members voted on their final recommendations on March 5.

Nothing contained in the final recommendations is especially flashy. Many items found nearly unanimous agreement among those who ventured up this mountain. Some suggest doing away with ideas created by former dairy scribes. Some are a testament to new thinking, as the world is now again considered “flat.”

Those receiving the greatest agreement were more or less guidelines, and the Devil (you knew he’d make an appearance, right?) will be in the detail.

They included:

• recommending a review of federal milk marketing orders; simplified and improved risk management products;

• improvements in federal loan programs;

• development of triggers and actions for emergency intervention;

• explore eliminating the dairy product price support program and dairy export incentive program;

• elimination of end-product pricing;

• better collection and publication of competitive pay prices;

• development of risk management margin lines of credit;

• modification of the Milk Income Loss Contract program, and providing a margin insurance option;

• creation of special tax-deferred dairy farmer savings accounts;

• support of competitive markets through oversight by the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice;

• maintaining and expanding programs for export market development;

• support the reduction of the somatic cell count standards to 400,000 cells per milliliter;

• encouraging USDA to explore impacts of California-type fluid milk fortification standards;

• restrictions on use of dairy terms when labeling products not made from dairy;

• development of educational programs and technical assistance to accommodate unique value-added dairies;

• increase funds available for environmental practices;

• continue the Environmental Quality Improvement Program (EQIP) and grant programs for energy audits, infrastructure development for value-added processing and distribution, among others;

• a phaseout of ethanol subsidies;

• creation of a dairy herd health program to eradicate bovine tuberculosis and Johne’s disease; and provide a legal means for dairy farms to employ year-round, long-term immigrant labor.

Less consensus, or rather a downright split, regarded adoption of a growth (or supply) management program.

Some of the recommendations will run directly counter to other federal policies. Smoothing the terrain for immigrant labor, for example, is a hot potato facing opposition from Homeland Security and other border protectors. Ethanol subsidies have support from energy security advocates and crop producers. Federal funding for export market development, as well as many conservation programs, already face the budget ax. And, any program will have to face the abacus of budget scoring.

We’ll see how they’re received, and how they’ll fair alongside other dairy policy engineering efforts from the likes of the International Dairy Foods Association, National Milk Producers Federation, Dairy Policy Action Coalition, National Dairy Producers Organization, and many others. Then, there’s the little matter of taking it to the temple of Congress.

It’s highly unlikely DIAC’s delivery on the steps of USDA will contain all things necessary for communal living in the dairy industry. We do, after all, have quite a large number of replacement heifers in need of care – literally and figuratively. However, it was a noble effort and undoubtedly a guide for the future.

So, did you hear about the time Moses and Jesus skipped a breakout session during an Old Testament Conference to go golfing? Eyeing up a rather lengthy second shot on a par five hole, Jesus asked for his 1-iron, to which his caddy, Peter, denying his request, replied, “Even God …


■ To offer your own opinion or response, e-mail Dave Natzke, national editorial director, DairyBusiness Communications, e-mail: dnatzke@dairybusiness.com.