As we celebrate National Dairy Month, I’d like to recognize dairy producers across California and around the nation for their productivity and innovation.
It’s also a time to look toward a bright future for the U.S. dairy industry — a future of new solutions and less uncertainty for the men and women who put milk, cheese and other dairy products on our tables.
While Americans enjoy dairy products every day for their great taste and high nutrient value, many don’t know that our nation’s dairy industry faces some of the most unpredictable conditions in agriculture. Dairy producers have watched milk prices rise and fall at a roller-coaster rate. They’ve worked hard to manage their herds in the face of deep uncertainty, but they’re always left wondering whether next year will be a boom or a bust.
When I began as agriculture secretary, dairy producers were in dire straits; milk prices had plummeted and threatened thousands of dairies with bankruptcy. Almost immediately upon taking office, I implemented a number of tools at my disposal. We temporarily increased purchase prices under the Dairy Product Price Support Program to help with record low prices. I authorized a temporary program to help our dairy products compete on the world market, boosting our export capacity. We issued special guidance to USDA field offices to ensure every avenue of help was available for struggling dairy operations.
Right now in California, 152 dairy producers have a USDA loan or a USDA loan guarantee to help them keep going strong. And finally, we implemented the Dairy Economic Loss Assistance Program within two months of passage and expedited the implementation of the Milk Income Loss Contract Program as modified by Congress in the 2008 farm bill to make sure assistance was provided to producers as fast as possible.
At the same time, we recognized that short-term fixes can’t solve the unique market woes that plague our dairy folks. To help explore ways to achieve long-term stability I appointed a group of dairy farmers, industry leaders and academic researchers to the USDA Dairy Industry Advisory Committee to look at how things work today and explore strategies for a more secure dairy sector tomorrow. The committee reported to me this spring with a number of potential solutions for both USDA and Congress to consider.
Our short-term assistance and our long-term commitment are beginning to pay off. The value of U.S. exports of dairy products rebounded strongly in 2010, up more than 60 percent from 2009. And this year we are up another 50 percent. Milk prices have rebounded. And we’re showing folks a historic level of cooperation in finding ideas to reduce market fluctuation.
As this recovery takes shape, we will keep a laser focus on the health of our dairy industry. I know that we can’t solve every problem from Washington, but I want dairy families to know that we appreciate their hard work and that USDA is committed to their success.
This opinion piece, with a different title, appeared recently in the Sacramento and Modesto Bee newspapers in California and appears here with permission. To find out more about June Dairy Month click here.