cows in field

From the NODPA Desk July/August 2020

By Ed Maltby, NODPA Executive Director

These last few months I have been on various conference/zoom/team calls with many folks in government, agricultural support agencies, and congressional professionals trying to measure the effect of the pandemic on farming and its infrastructure support systems. The word of the moment seems to be ‘pivot’ with many describing how they have adapted to a different world.

Pivot is what we do every day when farming, especially on small to medium size operations. It’s what small businesses do as a matter of everyday life but the changes right now are exposing the frailties of our supply infrastructure and an economy built on service industries. At last, we are seeing money become available to reinvest in infrastructure, which is usually not available to smaller operations because they lack the access to capital, the collateral for loans, and the ability to service even modest debt. As I write this, Congress is putting together another pandemic stimulus package which, hopefully, will include various proposals to support farm operations that want to reinvest in their marketing and supply infrastructure since diversifying will be key to the future of small and mid-size dairy operations Even though writing proposals for grant money and accessing USDA handouts takes time, what is available now will not last so seize the opportunity.

Organic dairy supply has stabilized with demand growing slowly, but with a pay price that is stagnant and below the cost of production except for those large operations that have the economies of scale. They are the ones that will profit initially from an expansion of the market. The future is not looking bright for the publication of a Final Rule for the Origin of Livestock (OOL) because it seems to be stuck in agency review at the USDA. We continue to work with all the different groups that are advocating for a decision and more clarity from the USDA. We hear a variety of different reasons for the delay, which will become clearer in the coming months, but the window of opportunity for the Rule is rapidly disappearing. I would have thought that over the last eighteen years of different meetings on proposed rules, interpretations, guidance documents, Inspector General Reports, and a 2015 Proposed Rule, that all the problems or difficulties of clarifying this one time exemption would have been worked out. Apparently not! Lobbying by powerful Washington DC based groups such as National Milk Producers Federation may have tipped the balance in USDA thinking, especially with the fear of a lawsuit.

We have always said that the OOL is not a silver bullet; however, for organic dairy to grow equally for all sizes of organic dairy operations, we need a Final Rule that will bring consistent enforcement of regulations for transitioning conventional animals and to provide a stable future. If there is no Final Rule that adequately safeguards the integrity of organic dairy, with a one-time per person provision, we should reconsider changing the Organic Food Production Act to exclude any exemption for organic dairy and revert back to the same status of all other organic livestock, last third of gestation. This proposal has consistently been supported by NODPA and Western Organic Dairy Producers over the last 4 years.

Watch out for your own NODPA Field Days edition coming to you by mail, email and the web in September 2020, including details about our Producer-Only Conference Call in early October!