‘Well Managed, But Poorly Led’

Published on: 11:56AM Jun 03, 2011

With Foundation For The Future, National Milk Producers Federation is trying to move our insulated, domestic dairy industry to a more profitable, consistent supplier to world markets. Will dairy producers let NMPF lead?

At the end of a recent two-day dairy conference where everything from trade policy to labor management to drug residues were discussed, there was a palpable sense of frustration about the challenges the industry faces and the lack of clear progress. A producer in the back of the large ballroom stood up and made the comment: “Our industry is well managed but poorly led.”
I think the producer got it half right. Yes, U.S. dairies are well managed. You can’t have a national average of 21,149 lb. of milk per cow—65 lb. of milk per cow per day—and not be well managed.
Where I take issue with the “well managed, poorly led” statement is the “poorly led” part. USDA says there were about 53,000 licensed dairy operations at the start of the year. Some days it feels like there are also 53,000 separate, distinct opinions on what direction U.S. dairy policy should take. In this environment, it’s extremely difficult to provide leadership. Have you ever tried to herd cats?
Andy Novakovic, a Cornell University dairy economist and the recent chairman of USDA’s Dairy Industry Advisory Committee, puts it like this: “When I talk to industry members about policy choices, I always go back to basics. What problem are you trying to fix?  What does fixed look like?  Is the problem that the designer of the proposal is trying to fix the same problem that you identify?”
The good professor is right: The biggest problem is that dairy producers themselves can’t agree on what the problem is. Is it milk price? Market volatility? Income over feed costs? Pricing transparency? Federal Orders? Access to global markets? Imports?
The National Milk Producer Federation’s plan, “Foundation for the Future,” attempts to solve several of these. It tries to make U.S. dairy policy more conducive to consistently selling dairy products on the world market. It tries to protect income over feed costs while at the same time tamping down milk price volatility. Finally, it somewhat simplifies Federal Milk Market Orders.
It’s a complex plan, to say the least. That’s why we decided to devote 80% of the June/July issue of Dairy Today to Foundation for the Future. The digital version is now available at www.dairytoday.com. The printed magazine will arrive in your mailbox later this week.
Our coverage provides plan details, commonly asked questions, opinions as to how effective it would be, producer reactions from our Dollars and Sense columnists, and a score card of who is supporting the plan, who isn’t, why or why not. Unquestionably, our June/July issue is the most detailed examination of Foundation for the Future offered thus far by any publication.
Take the time to read it. Then go to the web and click on our Bonus Content features, which will provide even more information, more opinions, more analysis from the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, the University of Wisconsin and Cal Poly. After doing all that, you will understand what Foundation for the Future is all about. Only then can you make up your mind as to it merits. 
The U.S. dairy industry is a well-managed industry, providing consumers with fresh, safe, reasonably-priced dairy products every day of the year. NMPF is trying to provide leadership that will move the industry from an insulated, domestic focus to a more profitable, consistent supplier to world markets. The question is: Will 53,000 dairy producers—all with their own sacredly held beliefs and opinions—let NMPF lead?