Dairy farmers seek action in Congress

Written by Jim Mulhern

DFA’s legislative team works closely with National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), of which DFA is a member, to advocate for dairy farmers’ interests on Capitol Hill. In the following, Jim Mulhern, NMPF president and chief executive officer, explains the legislative priorities for the dairy industry in 2015.

Any reference to Congress during the past two years often included the words “partisan gridlock” to describe why almost nothing of substance was accomplished on Capitol Hill. The passage of the 2014 Farm Bill last February was one notable exception to this trend, but it was a rare exception.

As a new year begins, bringing with it new leadership in the Senate as well as in many congressional committees, it’s an open question as to whether the public policy outlook for 2015 offers more hope for substantive progress on issues of importance to America’s dairy farmers.

One key to dissolving the gridlock and spurring action on agriculture’s priority issues will be for lawmakers to choose compromise over continuous conflict, action over deadlock and delay. Farmers across the country are hopeful that the new Congress will bring to the forefront long-simmering topics ranging from immigration
to tax reform to trade policy. All of these are issues that DFA, and other cooperatives that belong to NMPF, will be pushing in the coming months in an effort to compel action by the House and Senate.

Here’s a quick rundown of key dairy farmer priorities in Washington in 2015:

Immigration reform.

The business case for a major overhaul of federal immigration law is stronger than ever: our immigration policy is broken, and a sensible repair will help bring labor stability to our industry and grow the economy.

NMPF is engaged with other farm organizations in a lobbying group called the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, which will remain focused on ensuring that any reform efforts address the needs of America’s farm employers.

Those needs were in no way resolved by the White House executive action in November. The dairy industry now faces both the opportunity and the obligation to push hard, yet again in 2015, to achieve our twin goals of preserving our existing workforce and providing a future flow of farm laborers. The White House executive action, and partisan wrangling over a response to it, ensures that immigration will be a controversial issue this year.

Tax reform.

There’s a compelling business case to be made that reform of our tax policies will be an economic boost. And as is also the case with immigration policy, the last major reform of the tax code was in the mid-1980s. With Republicans in charge in both chambers, small business owners — such as farmers — can make a clear case that
a simpler, fairer tax code, including estate tax reform, will foster expanded job creation.

Nutrition policy.

The Child Nutrition Act (CNA), which regulates the school lunch program, must be reauthorized by Congress every five years … and 2015 is one of those years. Food policy has become overtly political in recent years, and given that fighting obesity and serving healthier food to kids has been a White House priority, renewal of the CNA is also going to be a high-profile issue.