By Dino Giacomazzi, Giacomazzi Dairy, Hanford, CA
“Producers Voice” written for and printed in Agribusiness Dairyman Magazine, July 2010
Not exactly what Mark Twain had in mind when penning the famous quote but it pretty much sums up the dairy industry today.
The dairy industry is a unique critter. We are a group of fiercely independent, conservative capitalists doing everything we can to wrangle ourselves into socialist systems. Milk marketing orders and cooperatives are examples of such systems that developed out of need.
We aren’t very consistent in our politics. We generally display a, “get the government out of my back pocket, but they damn well better make a deposit in my front pocket” attitude. I am actually ok with these forms of schizophrenia. The problem I have is the hypocrisy of the fighting within the industry.
It appears to me that the dairy industry is at war. We are at war with radical environmentalists who want to regulate cow farts and let sardines rule the earth. At war with vegan terrorists who torture animals on video to portray us as Hitler with a milk mustache. At war with Marxist journalists who portray modern agriculture as the source of all societal ills, creating a dilemma for us omnivores. At war with unions, regulators, politicians, inspectors, monopolistic processors, oligarchic retailers, weather reporters, food burning cars, market manipulators, protein concentrators, hippies, lions, tigers, bears, and Al Gore! Oh my!
Why the heck are we constantly at war with each other? Why is it every time we show up to a battle with an outside group we come fighting with each other? We do this with processors over make allowances and environmentalists over air regulations. They show up organized, with a plan, and a message. We show up prepared to lose. I don’t blame policymakers for making the easy choice.
With all this adversity it seems like this would be a good time to come together. Let’s cease to be Western, Midwestern or Northeastern dairymen, lets not align ourselves as dairymen from ABC or XYZ co-op, let’s erase the lines between the dairymen of the red trade group and the blue one. Let’s just be Dairymen!
Ok, great, we are all just dairymen, now what? How about we talk about Milk Market Management.
In 2009 we didn’t have a supply problem we had a demand problem. Yes the price discovery system is flawed and the markets are manipulated, but that doesn’t change the fact that the economies of the world collapsed. They are still collapsing. It wasn’t just us. Like the post-911 years 2002-2003, the world melted down and we melted with it.
We need a unified dairy industry taking a holistic approach to reform doing it from a position of thoughtful reflection as opposed to panicked reaction. And we need to do it now.
The first step is to stop talking about supply management and start talking about milk market management, a comprehensive plan to reform all sectors of the industry. Reform must take place on the supply side and the demand side. Supply management is just one spoke in the wheel that will drive our industry into a brighter future.
The demand side must include a coordinated effort by every dairy marketing organization across the country to produce two simultaneous campaigns. One positioning dairy products as the healthy, natural choice over sodas and junk food. The other, a public relations campaign demonstrating that dairy families share the same values as the people voting on milk with their check book and at the ballot box. I honestly believe people have forgotten that milk is better for them than Coke. It’s time for that to change.
Demand management needs to include other reforms such as eliminating programs that stifle innovation in the industry. If the CCC quit buying powder, I have a feeling we would figure out a better use for it. We always do.
On the supply side we need reform of our price discovery system. We need a supply management plan that will efficiently send signals to the market to cut supply but not hinder domestic growth and international expansion. We need a safety net that is flexible, changes with market conditions, is equitable to all dairy farmers, and is not a burden on the taxpayer. We need to reform trade policy and definitions of dairy products so that “fair” trade wins out over “free” trade. We need to change our relationship with the processor and shift some of the responsibility for marketing and profit making to them.
There are many more issues to discuss and a lot of details need to be worked out. Honestly, I don’t have the solution to any of these problems, but I know enough to understand only a comprehensive plan will be sustainable. I cannot support a single tiered approach. The last 18 months have been hell, and the future is still uncertain. But one thing is for sure, if we don’t put our differences aside and lock ourselves in a room until we emerge together with a total solution, we won’t be here next year to fight about it. In my opinion, NMPF’s Foundation for the Future plan is a good start. Now let’s all go to work.
(Side Note:I did not write this article as an endorsement of the NMPF Foundation for the Future plan. I am merely suggesting this should be the basis of our conversations and foundation for total industry reform. If you find that you have an interest in this plan and are willing to start discussing it, take a moment to voice your opinion at this poll: http://poll.fm/1vhac. It would be nice to see where people really stand on this issue. FYI, the poll has been active for many months before the NMPF’s plan came into existence.)