WFBF workshops discuss FMMO updates, CAFO moratoriums

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer

Federal Milk Marketing Orders and moratoriums on CAFOs were on the minds of many farmers participating in the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation's 101st annual meeting on Friday, Dec. 4.

The annual event provided farmers with new information and insight from the organization on current events affecting the agriculture industry. 

After an address from outgoing president Joe Bragger and visit from American Farm Bureau Federation president Zippy Duvall, members and leaders broke into workshop groups that discussed many farmers' issues in Wisconsin, including Federal Milk Marketing Orders (FMMO) and restrictions on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) across the state.

John Newton

Federal Milk Marketing Orders workshop

John Newton, who has been the AFBF chief economist since 2018 and plays a key role in policy development and analysis for the organization, shared his insights into what the future of FMMOs looks like and what policies AFBF has on them.

Several Farm Bureau members from across the country, including the newly-elected president of WFBF Kevin Krentz, spent nearly a year in an FMMO working group to develop the organization's policy recommendations after the 2018 Farm Bill was passed, altering how FMMOs function, Newton said.

Kevin Krentz

Newton said some of the recommendations the group made include simplifying the too-complex milk marketing rules, increasing price discovery for dairy products and giving farmers an individual ballot to vote on nationwide dairy policies. The latter recommendation touches on what has been an especially contentious problem among dairy farmers.

"The final step in a federal order change is to vote on a new order, and currently the only way to vote is through the coop. They bloc vote, and individual farmers that aren't members of a coop can cast an individual ballot," Newton said. "But there's no way for a farmer to cast his own individual ballot if he's a cooperative member. The working group and the delegates at our first convention recommended that dairy farmers should have a seat at the table and be able to cast an individual and confidential ballot."

The House of Representatives Agriculture Committee has expressed interest in amending the way votes are collected by giving farmers a choice for an individual or cooperative ballot, Newton said. 

Negative PPDs plagued dairy farmers across the country for six months straight in 2020.

Newton also said dairy farmers lost a collective $2.1 billion in potential revenue due to negative Producer Price Differentials, which occurred because the component value of milk exceeded the overall value of Class I milk, and many cooperatives in Wisconsin and other states decided to depool their cheese-designated milk in order to avoid sharing the market with Class I and Class IV producers.

"Negative PPDs were nearly $10 per hundredweight in California. In the upper Midwest they were anywhere between 50 cents in September, all the way up to ... close to $4.50 in October and $4.86, nearly $5, in July," Newton said. "The reason why PPDs weren't so negative for (Wisconsin farmers) is all the cheese milk wasn't depooled because they couldn't take it all out of the pool. You have a better PPD than some people across the country."

Close to 6 billion pounds of milk meant for cheese were taken out of the pool in the Midwest, Newton said, but this was a much lower amount than in other regions, which meant Midwestern dairy farmers did not experience PPDs quite as steep. Negative PPDs were triggered for six straight months between June and November.

And even when farmers signed up risk management programs through Dairy Margin Coverage or others, Newton said negative PPDs were not accounted for in those payments. Newton also explained that while the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farmers to Families Food Box Program was good for struggling families, it also tightened up and "disrupted" cheese markets, making it difficult to know just how much dairy was needed.

The new formula for calculating the Class I milk price has reduced profits for farmers, AFBF says.

"The food box is kind of competing against USDA to deliver food in a different way. The challenge with these other programs is you can't necessarily dictate how much dairy is going to be in each one," Newton said. "People with an EBT card, you don't know if they're going to necessarily buy a gallon of milk or a jug of coke with that, whereas the food box program, it was pretty prescriptive in that you had a gallon of milk, some cheese, maybe some butter."

Farmers should be seeing more positive PPDs soon, Newton said, as Class III milk prices decline and even up competition between milk prices.

Newton shared a list of many ideas being shared in the dairy industry and whether AFBF supports them:

  • Give farmers a vote by allowing them to vote independently of their cooperative voting blocs – AFBF supports
  • Create tighter FMMO qualification criteria to make it more difficult to qualify milk and increase economic cost of depooling – AFBF supports
  • Decouple fluid milk prices from manufacturing prices – AFBF supports
  • Address wide block-barrel spread in cheese markets by modifying Class III formulas to not use barrels – AFBF supports
  • Change Class I price formula by going back to higher-of policy from 2014 Farm Bill – no policy yet
  • Eliminate advanced pricing component – no policy yet
  • Make pooling mandatory – no policy yet
Kay Johnson Smith

CAFO moratorium workshop

A roundtable of farmers discussed the wave of CAFO moratoriums that has been sweeping Wisconsin, including in Polk County, this year. That included Chris Owens, president of the Polk County Farm Bureau; Kay Johnson Smith, president and CEO of the Animal Agriculture Alliance; AV Roth, president of the National Pork Producers Council; and Dan Bahr, a government affairs associate with the Wisconsin Counties Association. Steve Boe, director of local affairs for WFBF, moderated.

Smith said "activists" are behind many of these pushes for moratoriums and other regulations on CAFOs, which house at least 1,000 animals for more than 45 days a year. The activists, she said, have anti-animal ag and anti-big farm agendas and use buzzwords to misrepresent those operations at the smallest level of government.

Chris Owens

"The animal rights activists, of course, coined the term factory farm years ago. I've been with the Alliance now for 26 years and so I would say at least 20 years ago, (it) was coined and really caught on with the activist community," Smith said. "People tend to not like big corporations, so they want all farms to seem like factory farms, and so the campaigning against large farms or CAFOs is nothing new."

Counties and municipalities should utilize the zoning code tool they have at their disposal, Bahr said, which would help determine how much of the local land and which parts of it can be designated for CAFOs and other ag operations. He also said it's important to be consistent when creating zoning codes so that when a CAFO submits an application to build, the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection can take it from there to avoid playing politics.

Roth told viewers to engage in local politics as much as possible by going to county or municipal board meetings, reviewing agendas and meeting minutes and potentially even running for office in order to see the change you want to see happen. He said it's also important to keep up with what's happening at the state level, since Wisconsin law dictates some of what local entities can do to restrict agriculture.

Howard "A.V." Roth

"As a farmer, you need to tell your story. That is extremely important. Generally in Crawford County, at least half the county board, if not more ... are farmers there, but there's also people that still live in a larger city," Roth said. "They know what your culture is, but they don't understand what's happened in agriculture in the last 30 years, how it's grown."

Many of the people protesting CAFOs just don't understand the implications of what they're saying, Owens said, or that they don't understand farming at all. He also recommended staying in touch with your county Farm Bureau leadership and helping them tell local elected officials how important ag is to you. He said he regretted letting a moratorium on swine CAFOs in neighboring Burnett County slide.

"We at the Farm Bureau decided at our board meeting between the two counties ... that we probably needed to just stand back, and looking back, it was probably a mistake," Owens said. "They crossed the border into Polk County real quick."

Dan Bahr

Some states are looking to strengthen their Right to Farm laws, like Michigan and Georgia, Smith said. She added that states and local entities should relax farming regulations because many farms will end up leaving the state for a less restrictive one, leading to a weaker economy and losing out on the taxes that business would have brought in.

Bahr emphasized a necessity for scientific evidence for these CAFO moratoriums, pointing out that the efforts in Polk County have failed because of a lack of evidence that is sufficient under state law. He said the county received a letter from DATCP saying their regulations did not conform to state statutes, but it's possible for counties and municipalities to pass illegal resolutions if no one challenges them.

"If you go against that advice that they're giving, the likelihood of litigation against the local government ... becomes more likely," Bahr said. "Now, you may not get sued, because perhaps no one's looking to save the concentrated animal feeding operation, so the resolution has been passed, but it ultimately is very important to follow the law, to seek legal advice."