The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) for example, has already congratulated Joe Biden, and said bipartisan solutions are the best solutions, arguing a widely-accepted policy is less likely to be tossed out the moment a different political party takes power.
Michael Torrey, a longtime expert on farm legislation, this week said advocating at the federal level for dairy farmers will be crucial with new lawmakers set to join Congress and potentially a new president heading to the White House.
“There are going to be a lot of new faces, there is going to be new philosophy (and) going to be new leadership. So, it is important to be engaged in Washington, D.C.,” Torrey told members of Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative on November 11 during a video conference.
Torrey, principal and founder of Michael Torrey Associates, is a veteran of Capitol Hill who, among other roles, served as an adviser to former presidential candidate Bob Dole and as deputy chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Torrey works with Edge, which advocates on federal policy for its Midwest dairy farmers and processors.
His presentation, a week after one of the most contentious US presidential elections, reviewed key congressional changes and how a potential Biden administration might affect farmers.
The challenge of making sure lawmakers understand the complexities of dairy issues is growing, Torrey said. He pointed to the defeat of Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., a longtime member and current chairman of the House Agriculture Committee who, Torrey said, understands dairy policy more than most on either side of the political fence.
On the environment and climate change, Torrey said despite the talk of a sweeping New Green Deal, there doesn’t see major climate legislation coming if Republicans retain control of the Senate, which appears probable. President-elect Biden has promised to rejoin the Paris multi-country climate accord. President Trump withdrew the US from that agreement.
Edge said its general position is that environment- and climate-focused policies affecting farmers should be guided by farmers, grounded in science, financially viable, and flexible to allow farmers to innovate.
On immigration and the workforce, he said Biden could use executive orders for things like protecting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), but Torrey believes major legislation is unlikely in the next two years. However, he said the focus on the economy, which is hampered by a lack of available labor, does provide reason to keep pushing for ag workforce improvements.
Edge, which advocates for a new year-round visa that will be practical for livestock farms, said it wants a way for farmers to protect their existing workforce while also having consistent opportunities to hire new foreign-born workers.
There are differences, too, on international trade, Torrey said. Whereas Trump has been willing to have the US go it alone on trade by using tariffs, Biden has indicated he will pursue a multi-lateral approach, including with China.
Edge sees robust trade as key to long-term success for the dairy community. The coop said it supports developing new agreements that would give dairy farmers and processors better access to new foreign markets as the demand for protein grows along with the global population.
Torrey said it is highly unlikely a Biden administration would move the needle in dairy’s favor on labeling.
A key part of Edge’s mission is to get members engaged in advocacy, Tim Trotter, Edge’s executive director, said.
Trotter said providing insights from Torrey is one way to do that.
He also noted other opportunities for members: one-on-one conversations with lawmakers on Capitol Hill as part of Edge’s “Dairy Speaks in D.C.” trips, participation on Edge’s policy committee, tools like VoterVoice that make it easy to speak out on specific proposals, and farm visits by top officials.
“The voices of Edge’s dairy farmers and processors matter to decision-makers in Washington, so providing our members with those opportunities is a top priority,” Trotter said.
“The more we all speak up and convey who we are and what matters most on the farms and in the processing plants, the more of a positive impact we will have for the dairy community.”
NMPF weighs in
The NMPF also struck a conciliatory, center-ground position, and congratulated Biden.
“Congratulations to President-elect Biden and the incoming members of the 117th Congress, who will have a lot of work to do in this country, from legislating to building common ground,” said NMPF president and CEO Jim Mulhern.
“Dairy is ready to do its part and work with the administration and Congress to face difficult problems successfully, in the bipartisan spirit we have always practiced and believed in.”
It said dairy has its own interests, just like everyone else, but the emphasis dairy places on bipartisanship isn’t just lip service. The NMPF said this is rooted in specific circumstances that have produced a distinct emphasis among dairy farmers to seek political common ground.
The ability to talk to, and work with, both sides has given dairy a unique sensitivity, and ability to address, concerns from across the political and consumer spectrum, the NMPF argued.
“Dairy fights against regulations that needlessly undermine their ability to effectively feed the world; it’s also highly sensitive toward public concerns, proactively addressing issues such as animal welfare and workplace safety through its FARM Program and supporting initiatives such as the Dairy Environmental Sustainability Goals and dairy’s Net-Zero Initiative to achieve a carbon-neutral sector by 2050,” it said.
It said dairy producers know successfully serving common goals is possible, because they achieve it every day.
It concluded by saying, “There’s a lot of work to do in this country in the next few months and years, from legislating to healing. Dairy is ready to do its part – and much more, if that’s what the nation needs.”
Trade barriers crucial
Given the national and strategic importance of US dairy exports, the NMPF and the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) also released an executive summary of its recent analysis of the global trade barriers hampering overseas dairy sales, to better inform and guide the work of the incoming administration and other policymakers.
The submission to the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) office was created as part of the USTR’s annual call for input to inform its National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers. It outlined nearly 40 pages of challenges and opportunities facing US dairy exports in more than 30 foreign markets.
“Exports are essential to the economic survival of our industry, and it is important US trade negotiators fully understand all of the trade-distorting tricks used to keep high-quality US dairy products out of global markets,” said Tom Vilsack, president and CEO of USDEC.
“The USTR has worked hard to address many of these barriers, and USDEC members have benefited from our broad approach to handling issues ranging from trade policy to regulatory hurdles. We stand ready to continue our work alongside USTR and USDA to address these and future trade barriers.”
More than $6bn of dairy products were exported in 2019, accounting for 15% of all US milk production, with more potential to serve consumers overseas and create dairy jobs at home.
“Our comments to the USTR provide a road map for dozens of opportunities to create a more level and consistent global playing field for the US dairy sector,” Mulhern said.
“The best avenue to stamp out many of these trade tactics that disadvantage American-made dairy products is to strongly convey the message that foreign restrictions on U.S. agriculture must end and that new trade agreements that dismantle trade barriers and put America’s dairy industry on a level playing field are necessary.”
The industry’s submission dedicated the most attention to markets where trade barriers are limiting US market access, including China and Europe. It said foreign countries use policies including high tariffs, retaliatory duties, geographic indications, import licensing, and unscientific health requirements to keep US goods at bay. The submission also focused on the importance of enforcing hard-won gains under existing free-trade agreements, particularly the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
NMPF and USDEC said the US should prioritize trade deals most likely to yield net positive benefits for dairy and agriculture, such as with the UK and key Asian markets, including in Southeast Asia.