The Daily Caller: OPINION: Dairy Producers Are Getting Milked By Current Commodity Checkoff Programs

by Mike Eby | Chairman, Board for the National Dairy Producers Organization | November 1, 2018

I read with great interest a Daily Caller op-ed written by Marty Irby about the need for reform within the commodity checkoff program. Irby, in his role with Animal Wellness Action, works daily to support sustainable, pasture-based farms and farmers who work in animal husbandry.

I should know. I have worked with Irby for years, including while he served The Humane Society of the United States, which, through its Rural Affairs Department, goes to bat on issues such as commodity checkoff reform, Country of Origin Labeling issues, and more, on behalf of family farmers.

The farmers whom I represent as the Chairman of the Board for National Dairy Producers Organization know all too well how the checkoff program, in its current state, fails them. The dairy checkoff program, the largest checkoff program in existence, isn’t helping to keep dairy farmers in business, and it certainly isn’t helping to increase their sales or the prices they receive for milk.

Across America, family farms are going under at record rates, and dairy farms are among the hardest hit. In January of 2018, media reported that Wisconsin — America’s dairyland — had seen the loss of 500 small dairy farms, with 11 additional farms said to be closing each week, and those numbers continue to rise.

Studies report an eight percent decrease in liquid milk sales, while plant-based dairy alternatives exhibit continued growth by as much as 20 percent. In April, Economic Research Service reported that the 2016 farmer’s share per dollar spent on milk was down to 30 cents.

Meanwhile, audits and reports prove that checkoff funds — to the tune of more than $800,000,000 — have been used to prop up industrial agriculture organizations like National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF). Checkoff funds are not to be used for lobbying, but NMPF is a lobbying organization.

If you look, you will find a striking similarity between the Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) checkoff agenda and NMPF lobbying efforts, which isn’t surprising since they sit on each other’s boards. Both promote the continually failed school lunch program utilizing skim or 1-percent milk, while real family dairy farmers call their Congressmen and Congresswomen asking to have the Whole Milk Act (H.R. 5640) passed.

These are issues that need to be resolved so that independent farmers like myself can work within a competitive and just market.

The National Milk Producers Federation claims to speak for the “co-op member farmer” who represents 80 percent of the milk produced in the nation, but instead, the organization openly serves the processing co-op’s management, which supplies the organization with the bulk of its funding.

Claims have been made that the use of checkoff funds is transparent, yet Organization for Competitive Markets has been actively engaged in a legal battle with the United States Department of Agriculture for more than four years asking to see the spending details of these federal tax dollars. Claims have also been made that the funds are not being misspent, yet repeated research and audits have found multiple checkoff abuses.

Some say three out of four farmers are happy with the checkoff program. I am a farmer calling for checkoff reform, and I am one of many.

Irby mentioned the 80-plus farm organizations throughout the country that are calling for this much-needed reform. Dairy producers are getting milked by current commodity checkoff programs. Independent family farmers need to call out the industry organizations and officials who falsely claim to represent them.

By calling for commodity checkoff reform, our U.S. policymakers must better serve the people and our nation’s trusted food producers — rather than catering to multinational corporations and their industry puppets.

Mike Eby is the Chairman of the Board for the National Dairy Producers Organization.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.