WOOSTER, Ohio — Milk producers across the nation are being called to join a national organization to represent their interests.
Known as the National Dairy Producers Organization — the entity is still in formation — but seeks to appoint delegates in all states, and include all of the nation’s 55,000 dairy farms.
Its first goal, according to its website, is to “unite in one common voice for the immediate benefit of the dairy producer, as well as the long-term sustainability of the entire dairy industry.”
To do this, representatives from California are calling on producers nationwide to participate in regularly scheduled telephone conference calls, where the moderator explains the organization and producers ask questions.
Tom Van Nortwick, CEO of California-based Agribusiness Publications, held a recent conference call in which he explained some of the organization’s motives.
Chief among them — stop the loss of dairy farms.
“There’s nothing more devastating to the economic engine in this country than to have fewer dairies,” he said, commenting also on the steadfastness of dairies to survive. “No other industry has gone two years without a profit and there’s still people standing.”
The organization is asking farmers for $80 memberships, which it says could lead to major increases in daily income to dairy farmers. It projects an increase of $1 (per hundred pounds of milk) would return $5 million more to dairy farmers nationwide each day.
The organization hopes to maintain a minimum operating budget of at least $2 million.
Additional goals are to:
Organize five producer/delegates and two alternates from every state. A state chair person, vice chair and secretary will be appointed. Delegates need to take full responsibility to enroll every producer in their state by organizing a county-by-county recruiting team.
Begin working on established short-term and long-term agendas developed by the organizing committee and state delegates. This includes but is not limited to, organizational structure, bylaws, officers, and other issues as may be designated by the producer/delegates.
Immediately impact the price of milk paid to producers by focusing greater attention and resolution on the development of a true milk supply management program, restructuring the national pricing formula, and developing proper language and legislation that will prohibit the unnecessary importation of dairy products.
On its own
Van Nortwick said NDPO does not have any endorsements by the major milk producing or marketing cooperatives in the nation, but there’s opportunity for other organizations to join this effort.
“I don’t want any of them (co-ops) to think in some way, shape or form that we’re trying to ride over the top of anybody,” he said.
Many producers already are members of a co-op or marketing organization, but he asks them, “have they been able to fix the problem?”
Scott Higgins, the chief executive for Ohio Dairy Producers Association, said he is still learning about the organization, but like always, he “takes new movements like this in a positive way.”
Higgins said the dairy industry is diverse, consisting of different types of producers, processors, and customers, and his biggest concern is he “just wants dairy farmers to be able to voice their concerns and their needs,” and in a “unified voice.”
Higgins and the association planned to learn more about the organization in a presentation by Geauga County dairy farmer Brenda Hastings.
Hastings, who milks about 550 Holsteins with her husband, Lad, said she feels the national organization will be the voice of “producers working on behalf of dairy producers.”
Right now, Hastings feels the nation’s dairy farmers lack a unified voice.
“I feel there is no single voice that truly represents them. … no group that represents our interests and there needs to be,” she said.
The Hastings market their milk independently.
“The challenge (with organizations) is you don’t want to get too far away from the producer. I think that is where some organizations have failed producers,” she said.
Chris Galen, spokesperson for the National Milk Producers Federation, which represents 31 dairy cooperatives, said he, too is still learning about this new organization.
“I guess they’re (NDPO) being formed because they want another avenue,” he said.
It’s still unclear whether the “avenues” of NDPO and cooperatives will collide, or run together. There’s reason to believe both could happen.
“I think it’s good when producers are active and we have a 90-plus year history on working on behalf of dairy farmers,” Galen said. “We’re going to keep working with the farmers in our organization to do what’s best for all dairy farmers.”
Call for leadership
Van Nortwick said he’s written as critically about producers’ role in the dairy price dilemma as he has the cooperatives. But he still feels there needs to be more unification and national leadership in the dairy industry.
“I have the philosophy it’s all for one or one for all,” he said. “You’re either for us or against us. If you’re not for us, you are against us.”
The organization has a “take charge” perspective on restoring pricing for dairy farmers, in the government and in the marketplace. Both are within the producers’ reach, he said, if they’re willing to take control.
“I have this concern about whether producers will stand up,” he said. “They have no desire to be civil disobedient, but there are some basic things that must be done if they are going to survive” or “this extermination will continue.”