Executives from scores of IDFA member companies attended over 100 meetings with congressional leaders and staff last Wednesday and Thursday to discuss key dairy policy issues. IDFA members were in town to attend IDFA's annual Washington Conference and the 29th Annual Ice Cream Party on Capitol Hill.
Representatives Collin Peterson (D-MN), ranking member of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, and Reid Ribble (R-WI), a freshman Congressman and member of the committee, addressed a packed room of attendees at the Insiders Breakfast at the Washington Court Hotel on Thursday. They shared their perspectives on current dairy policy proposals for the 2012 Farm Bill, and each encouraged processors to stay involved to move dairy policy reforms forward.
Peterson's remarks centered on the Foundation for the Future policies, which he plans to introduce in the form of legislation soon. While he acknowledged IDFA's position in opposition to FFTF, he emphasized his belief that it represents considerable reform of existing dairy policies, and it is broadly supported by co-ops because as a package it includes a form of production management, also known as milk-supply control. Peterson also discussed the proposal's recommended changes to the Federal Milk Marketing Orders and acknowledged that this component is still under development.
Peterson repeatedly asked attendees to work with him to find a solution. "I think we're going to miss an opportunity if you don't help us. It won't be perfect, but it will move the industry in the direction we need to move," he said. "We have to work together to figure out how we can sort through this."
Next up, Ribble presented a very different perspective of dairy policy negotiations.
"We're trying to craft a national policy that doesn't pit regions against one another," he said. "As a new member of the Agriculture Committee, I look forward to striking just the right balance."
He also discussed a recent visit to the White House where he told President Obama that the flagging economy needs consumers and business owners who are confident, but the American people don't trust the White House or Congress "because of how we talk to each other."
Another problem, he told the president, is that lenders aren't lending money anymore, so start-up companies and entrepreneurs have no access to capital. The banks are hiring legal analysts, not lending officers, to fight off new regulations. Calling attendees "the nation's job creators," Ribble asked them to let him know what obstacles Congress can remove "to make your job easier."
On Wednesday, the attendees also heard from Chris Adamo, Democratic staff director for the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, and Mike Seyfert, the committee's Republican staff director, who discussed the process for drafting the 2012 Farm Bill. On dairy policy, the staff directors were clear that all views would be considered, and that there is much work yet to do as future hearings and staff work is expected to continue through the end of the year and into 2012.
In response to a question from the audience, Adamo indicated that the committee would consider a dairy bill if passed by the House of Representatives, but that the unique rules of the Senate are a formidable barrier to passing dairy legislation separate from the upcoming farm bill.
Jerry Slominiski, IDFA senior vice president for legislative affairs and economic policy, summed up the 2011 Washington Conference meetings, saying "Our members have heard from Capitol Hill leaders, and they have also been heard on the importance of dairy policy to our industry. Although IDFA pledges to work with leaders from both parties to find solutions, we cannot support programs that will increase the amount of government regulation and interference into our markets and businesses."
IDFA's legislative group will continue to brief members on the status of dairy policies and work in Congress on the 2012 Farm Bill. IDFA encourages any members who could not make it to Washington Conference to contact Ashley Burch, IDFA assistant director for political programs, at email@example.com for information on scheduling a visit this year.
Members may login below to access the 2011 Washington Conference briefing book.
Visit IDFA's Facebook page to view a gallery of photos from the conference and ice cream party.
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