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  August 27, 2010

DPAC meets with members of Congress at Ag Progress Days

‘Daily’ reporting still on front burner

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Aug. 27, 2010

ROCK SPRINGS, Pa.—Daily reporting is not dead yet, according to board members of the Dairy Policy Action Coalition (DPAC)—a coalition of grassroots dairy producers, corresponding with their peers in 23 states and operating on donations from dairy farmers, farm organizations, and farm service and supply businesses now from 13 states.

During Ag Progress Days near Rock Springs, Pennsylvania on August 17, DPAC had an impromptu meeting with three members of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee: Rep. Tim Holden, who is the House Ag Committee vice-chair and represents Pennsylvania’s 17th district covering portions of Lebanon, Berks, Schuykill, Dauphin and Perry Counties; Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, representing Pennsylvania’s third district covering seven counties in Northwestern Pennsylvania; and Rep. Glenn Thompson, representing Pennsylvania’s fifth district covering 17 North Central and Northwest counties.

“We explained the need for “daily” (not “weekly”) in the language for electronic reporting of dairy product prices and volumes,” said Dennis Wolff, a lifelong dairy farmer and former state ag secretary who serves as DPAC’s government relations consultant. Wolff arranged the meeting between the members of Congress and DPAC board members. Chairman Cliff Hawbaker, a Franklin County dairy producer, vice-chair Daniel Brandt, a Lebanon County dairy producer, and Jeremy Meck, a Berks County producer attended—along with a dozen other dairy farmers who heard about the meeting.

“DPAC discussed their concerns with the electronic reporting language in the bill that passed the Senate and will be voted on in September by the House,” Wolff explained. “Dairy farmers want to see ‘daily’ reporting (not weekly) because improving the timeliness of the report is the key to it.”

Representatives Holden, Dahlkemper and Thompson agreed to help get a meeting together in Washington D.C. to look at options before the House vote.

“DPAC looks forward to continuing this discussion with House Agriculture leadership and staff in Washington D.C. after Labor Day,” said Wolff. This will be DPAC’s fifth trip to Washington since January on this issue, as the coalition first targeted its educational efforts toward the Ag Appropriations Subcommittees to seek funding for Section 1510 of the 2007 Farm Bill, which already authorizes the electronic reporting system, along with “more frequent” reporting and quarterly auditing. DPAC also met with USDA in April and with U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack’s Dairy Industry Advisory Committee in June.

Then, in July, an opportunity presented itself via the Ag Committees of the House and Senate. They included electronic reporting for dairy within their reauthorization of mandatory reporting for beef and pork, for which the current authorization is due to expire on September 30.

“It was good to see dairy included in this reauthorization, along with beef and pork,” said Wolff. He gave an update on “daily” electronic reporting during DPAC’s August 12 board meeting and that evening during a meeting for dairy producers in Kinzers, Lancaster County, Pa..

“This is a step in the right direction to go from a NASS Survey to electronic reporting,” said Wolff. “But the frequency of reporting (under these bills) is the same as the way it currently is, except for the fact that the reporting time would be shortened by two days to every Wednesday instead of every Friday. The issue here is the need for ‘daily’ reporting.”

The House and Senate Agriculture Committees passed separate versions of the Mandatory Reporting Act of 2010 (H.R. 5852 and S. 3656) earlier this month, which included this first step for dairy—directing USDA to establish an electronic reporting system as called for in the 2007 Farm Bill. But while the Act reauthorizes daily reporting for beef and authorizes new daily reporting for pork, the reporting requirement for dairy is described in the bill as “weekly”—not “daily.”

Dairy farmers have been hoping for the “more frequent” (daily) reporting and quarterly auditing promised in Section 1510 of the 2007 Farm Bill: a promise that DPAC has been striving to remind Congress to deliver.

On August 3, producers in many states responded to a DPAC email alert, calling their Senators on the Ag Committee and expressing the need for an amendment of the bill language to “daily” (not weekly) reporting for dairy products. But, after a late night lobbying effort by the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) against potential amendments for “daily” reporting of dairy product prices and volumes, the Senate Ag Committee whisked the bill through, without amendment, to the full Senate, where it passed by unanimous consent rules in early August, just before the Congressional summer recess.

The full House will vote on the measure when Congress resumes session sometime between September 13 and 20.

“This is an excellent example of why DPAC is critical as a grassroots dairy farmers effort,” said DPAC vice-chair Rob Barley at the board’s August 12 meeting. “The ‘daily’ electronic reporting is our focus right now so we need to double-down on this.”

Dairy producers across the country are encouraged to contact their members of Congress (by phone or fax) on this issue, simply to say that if USDA implemented  “daily” electronic reporting of dairy products, the effect of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) would be diluted. This is important because the CME is thinly traded and the market of last resort where only 0.4% of the US cheese production is traded. 

“What we need is for the Mandatory Reporting bill (H.R. 5852 or S. 3656) to be amended so that dairy product prices and volumes would be reported “daily” just like beef and pork processors are required to do,” said DPAC chairman Cliff Hawbaker. “Mandatory daily reporting helps insure dairy farmers have timely information, instead of outdated information, and access to a fair market price for their milk.”   

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