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Solution to Dairy Industry Woes in Hands of Newly-Formed Advisory Committee

A group of 17 men and women that represent the dairy industry met at USDA headquarters on Tuesday for the first time to find a solution to the volatile pricing of milk and milk products that has decreased industry profits and caused many operations to close.

“We need a relatively quick response from this group,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in his opening remarks to the newly-formed Dairy Industry Advisory Committee. “I hope at the end of all of this you can come up with a common solution that you can recommend to us and that we can present to the rest of the industry.”

The committee, which was established by USDA in August 2009, was designed to advise the secretary on policy issues impacting the dairy industry. The three-day public meeting will allow members to review farm milk price volatility and dairy farmer profitability, and make recommendations on how USDA can best address the long- and short-term needs of the dairy industry.

“The bandwidth between the good times and bad times used to be relatively stable,” said Vilsack.  “Over the past couple of years it has become very dramatic. The dips are significant, increases are not as high and there is not enough time for an operator to recover.”

Dairy farmers like Mary Cameron have been hit hard and continues to struggle to keep her operation running.

“My gross income has dropped to $160,000 a month and I’m about $600,000 in debt,” said Cameron, who owns nearly 1,000 cows on her farm in California. “It’s difficult to operate a farm when you have lost 42 percent of your income.”

The price of milk is based on commodity markets, which fluctuates with global demand. During the first quarter of 2009, milk prices dropped from $16.80 per cwt to $12.23 per cwt due to oversupply. Consumers weren’t buying as frequently and restaurants and other businesses cut down on how much milk and milk-based products they bought, creating a surplus of milk, which drove prices down.

According to the USDA, during that time, producers were paid half of what it cost them to produce the milk.

In response to those fluctuating prices, the government took action. “We went through a series of steps last year in an effort to try and help the industry,” said Vilsack. “It ranged from counter cyclical payments to commodity purchases, to an increase in additional resources provided by Congress. The hope was that as a result of that assistance the industry would produce inventory and eventually right itself.”

The assistance created a slight rebound late last year, but it did not last as current numbers show a steady decline in prices.

“The government can’t keep going with the Band-Aid approach,” said Vilsack. “We have to solve this and I am confident that [this group] will come up with a solution that we can implement through the legislative or regulatory process.”

 Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stressed the importance of the committee’s work, adding that saving the dairy industry is part of the survival and revival of rural America.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stressed the importance of the committee’s work, adding that saving the dairy industry is part of the survival and revival of rural America.

Dairy Industry Advisory Committee members took time to introduce themselves and offer opening statements.
Dairy Industry Advisory Committee members took time to introduce themselves and offer opening statements.

The 17 members of the Dairy Industry Advisory Committee were selected=The 17 members of the Dairy Industry Advisory Committee were selected from more than 300 nominations representing producer and producer organizations, processors and processor organizations, handlers, retailers, consumers, academia and state agencies.

USDA’s Nutrition Tour Makes Pit Stop in South Carolina

Cross-posted from the www.letsmove.gov blogBy Julie Paradis, USDA Food and Nutrition Service Administrator

This week I got a chance to travel to South Carolina and to talk to child nutrition staff from South Carolina as well as surrounding States like Tennessee, Mississippi and North Carolina about how we plan to improve school meals and the overall health of our nation’s children. It was a great group and a productive discussion.

This Administration’s goal is to improve child nutrition by ending child hunger and childhood obesity. As Administrator of USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, I can tell you that we’re committed to meeting this goal. FNS has 15 nutrition assistance programs—many of which serve children directly. Our National School Lunch and National School Breakfast Programs serve 32 million and 11 million children respectively. For many of the children we serve, School Lunch and Breakfast are the only nutritious meals they eat in a day.

Currently, our child nutrition programs are up for reauthorization. I see this as a crucial opportunity to make inroads toward ending child hunger and obesity. A strong reauthorization would help give parents, school districts, State Agencies, and all of our other partners the support and resources they need to make a difference. I was inspired by the level of commitment shown by those who attended the April 12 discussion in Charleston.  I heard a lot of great suggestions on how to make our programs more effective.  My hope is that through child nutrition reauthorization we can help creative ideas come to fruition.

Todd Bedenbaugh with the South Carolina Department of Education said, “It’s imperative that Secretary Vilsack is given the authority to regulate all foods sold during the school day to include vending machines and school stores. It will allow us to improve nutrition Integrity in the schools.”

I agree. One thing that we are acutely aware of is the fact that we must address hunger and obesity from many angles.  Nutrition assistance programs won’t solve these problems alone. That’s why I’m so excited about the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative. Let’s Move! is the type of integrated approach that is absolutely necessary.

We have to combine our efforts to serve better meals through nutrition assistance programs with efforts to improve access to healthy and affordable food, increase children’s physical activity, and help parents make healthy choices for their families.

Alice Lenihan with the NC Department of Health and Human Services applauds the First Lady for her efforts.  She said, “It’s the best thing that has come along in a long time. I urge the Administration and Congress to implement the CNR Bill. We need to shift our forces onto nutrition and physical activity. It’s an exciting time to be involved in child nutrition.” Alice Lenihan N C.

Child Nutrition reauthorization can ensure Let’s Move! gets the support it deserves.

My colleagues and I have several stops planned across the country.  Our goal is to escalate the national conversation on child nutrition. The feedback we get will help us take steps that build healthier families and communities across America.

 Roundtable group shot. FNCS Administrator Julie Paradis, Deputy Administrator for Special Nutrition Programs Audrey Rowe, and Southeast Regional Administrator Don Arnette meet with key state personnel and advocates from South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Georgia, to discuss Child Nutrition Reauthorization in Charleston, S.C., Apr 12.
Roundtable group shot. FNS Administrator Julie Paradis, Deputy Administrator for Special Nutrition Programs Audrey Rowe, and Southeast Regional Administrator Don Arnette meet with key state personnel and advocates from South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Georgia, to discuss Child Nutrition Reauthorization in Charleston, S.C., Apr 12.

FNCS Administrator Julie Paradis discusses the Child Nutrition Reauthorization with Southeast Regional Administrator Donald Arnette and state personnel in Charleston, S.C., Apr 12. FNS Administrator Julie Paradis discusses the Child Nutrition Reauthorization with Southeast Regional Administrator Donald Arnette and state personnel in Charleston, S.C., Apr 12