Remarks as prepared for delivery:
Thank you, Chairman Scott, for convening this important hearing to discuss Farm Bill dairy provisions.
Agriculture is the number one industry in Pennsylvania and dairy is our most valuable commodity. Our dairy producers have a huge impact on the economy of our commonwealth, especially in the rural communities and townships I am honored to represent.
I am a descendant of many generations of dairymen and women, but unfortunately our family farm sits at the bottom of a reservoir now thanks to eminent domain. But dairy will always remain a key interest of mine, and I am concerned with the number of farms we have lost in my state and across the country.
From 2020 to 2021, Pennsylvania lost more than 200 dairy farms, and nearly 1,800 nationwide in that same period. In order to stem this decline, we must have strong dairy policies in place that provide a safety net to help farmers withstand the tough years, and programs that help facilitate the movement of milk from the herd to the household.
I’m glad we have witnesses from the Department of Agriculture to update us on current policy and program implementation, as well as from the dairy stakeholder community to give their perspective on what is and isn’t working well.
The dairy policy we have in place now is the result of an iterative process. To be frank, Congress missed the mark in the 2014 Farm Bill with regards to the dairy safety net, but since then, via omnibus spending bills and the 2018 Farm Bill, we have made key improvements. Now, our producers have access to the Dairy Margin Coverage program, which has proven to be an effective risk management tool for dairies.
In terms of the agriculture industry, I would argue no sector was as acutely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as dairy producers and processors. Unlike many other commodities that can be stored or easily re-routed from food service to retail shelves, dairy doesn’t have that luxury. Unfortunately, in the early days of the pandemic, there were some tragic examples of farmers being forced to dump milk, but I credit the resiliency of the industry in limiting those occurrences. Everyone from the producers to the processors stepped up and worked overtime to find new markets or retool their production lines to keep up with the rapidly changing demands of the shuttered economy.
I am proud of our dairy industry for rising to the unprecedented challenges and continuing to provide households here at home and abroad with safe, abundant, and affordable supplies of nutritious milk and dairy products.
Unfortunately, these market disruptions had a negative impact on producers’ income due to changes made in the 2018 Farm Bill to the Class I mover. While USDA has provided some assistance to compensate producers for those losses, the five million pound limitation on assistance under the Pandemic Market Volatility Assistance Program left large operations with significant uncovered losses.
In the past, dairy policy was regularly one of the most contentious debates during Farm Bill reauthorizations. However, in the 2018 Farm Bill, the dairy industry worked together to achieve consensus rather than having Congress fight its battles for them.
I want to commend the National Milk Producers Federation and the International Dairy Foods Association for their work to foster those conversations and present a united front on critical policy debates, particularly as it relates to further modifications to the Class I mover.
Before I close, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that dairy not only needs producers and manufacturers—it needs consumers.
Dairy is a nutrition powerhouse, but we lost a generation of milk-drinkers when milkfat was taken out of our schools in 2010, and we badly need to turn that around. I continue to push for my bipartisan Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, which has very strong support across this Committee and Congress and hope we can make some progress there.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for working with me on this hearing, and I look forward to hearing from the witnesses on both panels.