Dairy producers positive at World Dairy Expo despite challenges
MADISON, Wis. — The mood was positive among dairy producers and industry representatives at the 51st annual World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis., despite the challenging market the last few years.
Producers attending the show say 2017 has been slightly more favorable for the industry than 2016, with low feed costs and milk prices at or slightly above breakeven.
"On my farm the price of milk was just a little bit better, depending on what they're using for different marketing tools," says Allen Merrill, a dairy producer from Parker, S.D.
However, it hasn't been the year producers had hoped for, with various factors keeping milk prices from what was predicted to be a better year.
"We still have a lot of dairy products in inventory, particularly cheese," says Chris Galen with the National Milk Producers Federation. "Our exports haven't been quite as strong due to a stronger dollar and just the global economy. For all those reasons, it's kept a lid on where we'd like prices to be."
Milk and dairy product prices also have been stifled by Canadian product that is coming into the United States and being dumped on the world market under their new dairy pricing system. Galen says they are hoping for some relief in the re-negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
"We need to roll back Canada's new Class VII Pricing Program which is a skim milk dumping program for them," he says. That really has negative consequences, not just to America's dairy farmers but dairy farmers around the world."
Dairy producers say the other compounding factor has been the lack of an adequate safety net.
"If the Margin Protection Program would have worked like it was supposed to work, like two years ago and last year, that wouldn't have made this year quite as challenging because we wouldn't have gotten behind," says Steve Schlangen, a dairy producer and Associated Milk Producers Inc. board chair from Albany, Minn. He says that is why they are pushing the ag committees to make changes in MPP in the upcoming farm bill.
The other major challenge the dairy industry has faced in 2017 has been the shortage of labor. "Especially on our dairy farms and in our processing plants even, it's hard to find people that want to work the hours that we need them to work," Schlangen says.
The dairy industry is hoping for a solution in the AG Act, a visa bill introduced this month by Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte that would create an H-2C program, allowing non-seasonal farm workers to remain in the U.S. for up to three years.
"Maybe that will help alleviate that problem. So, we're hoping something will come out of that where we can get some good workers coming into the country legally. It's pretty much like the H2A program, only this would be for year-round work. So, we're hopeful about that happening," he says.
Despite all that, dairy producers were at the World Dairy Expo looking for ways to improve their operations for the future.
"I think that's what we're all looking for is the edge — what can I do to leverage my labor, leverage my resources, leverage my feed supply to get a little bit more milk, a little bit less expense, a little bit more profitability at the end of the day," says Scott Bentley, manager of the World Dairy Expo.
He says the optimism about the industry was also reflected in a record 884 companies that exhibited in the trade show and 2,350 entries in the cattle shows.