COLUMNISTS

Is reaching a consensus on milk pricing a project for 2022?

John Oncken
Recently, at the Hinchley Dairy Farm near Cambridge, Wis.,  USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack fielded questions about the FMMO and USDA's role.

In recent months the age old issue of changing the Federal Milk Marketing Order system has been rising to the top of the dairy discussion list. Recently, at the Hinchley Dairy Farm near Cambridge, Wis.,  USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said the dairy industry needs to work through the discussion process and reach a consensus before asking the USDA to consider milk marketing order changes to pay farmers more.

“Rather than the USDA trying to dictate what we think the solution ought to be, and maybe make a mistake where Wisconsin thinks it’s great but Vermont thinks it’s horrible, you all basically must come with a plan,” Vilsack said.

Small dairies still exist but increased government support may not keep them in business.

Must come together

Must the opposing positions on dairy growth management held by Farmers Union and Farm Bureau come together before USDA would consider marketing order hearings?

“It doesn’t do any good to reopen the hearing unless you have something specific to open it with,” he said. "I could sit in the backroom and try to figure this out and I won’t get it right. And, our smart people who work at USDA won’t get it right either because none of us are actually on the ground here."

USDA can’t force

Vilsack says if he were to try to force either National Farmers Union or Farm Bureau into a box they’re not comfortable with, it does not work, and it will still require a consensus.

“The only way this works is for the industry to do the hard job, and trying to figure out if there is a sweet spot in between the universes that are represented here and come to the USDA and say here’s what we’d like to do, and here’s what it’s going to require the government to do.”

Dairy expansion has been common and rapid, can it be halted or slowed by the FMMO system?

Canada has a program

The Secretary says some have suggested the U.S. replicate Canada with their supply management, and he says their farmers are doing better, (My note: But dairy farm numbers continue to drop) but the consumer may end up paying significantly more for dairy products and might buy less dairy.

Being a small dairy does not ensure success.

USDA will stay involved

Vilsack says in a perfect world, a system would exist in which the market worked perfectly and the government didn’t need to be involved. But he expects that whatever system the industry comes up with, it will likely require the government to provide resources to make it work.

Holding FMMO hearings is not a guarantee of fast and/or satisfactory action. It is a rehash of issues presented by representatives of dairy groups with the USDA arriving at a decision — maybe.

Vilsack referred to the contrasting views of the Farm Bureau and the Farmers Union, not mentioning several other powerful dairy organizations.

My guess  

It will be difficult for the USDA to establish a milk pricing program favoring smaller dairy farmers in terms of pricing or continuing their farms. It’s not the way our US economy works.

Jackie Dougan Jackson has written four, 500 page books about her family and Wisconsin dairying. A great history!

Take time to read and enjoy in “22” 

As I’ve written several times, I think the four book “The Round Barn” series is the best history of Wisconsin farming ever written. Full of detail and so interesting. It was about eight years ago that I wrote the first of several columns about a book “The Round Barn: A Biography of a Family Farm,” that centered on the Dougan Dairy at Beloit that existed from 1906-1972. 

The author, Jacqueline Dougan Jackson, a retired English professor from the University of Illinois at Springfield, was raised on that farm. She writes vividly about the era when Wisconsin dairy farming was moving from hand labor and horses to mechanization as we know it today. The four book series describes Dougan Guernsey Farm,  the Dougan Farm Dairy, a longtime milk bottler, Dougan Seeds, the farm’s hybrid seed corn business and the round barn in Beloit.

Jackie Dougan is a prolific writer and historian who has written the best history of Wisconsin dairying 1906-1970.

Mostly however, the book is about the people and events that came under the aura of The Round Barn. The book is really about (in her words) “the barn, silo and dairy business as carried out on one farm by a family that seemed to be always ahead of the times.”     

Many books have been written on the subject of farming but none I’ve ever read are as complete and as interesting as “The Round Barn series.  Go to www. roundbarnstories.com to order any or all of these books and most book stores will have them. Treat yourself to a book or books and enjoy 2022.

John F. Oncken can be reached at 608-837-7406 or at jfodairy2@gmail.com