At last fall’s dairy industry joint annual meeting, Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), talked about the resilience of dairy farmers.
“Little did I know back then how important resilience was going to be for all of us this year because this year’s posed challenges beyond what any of us could have imagined one year ago,” he said during his virtual address to the industry.
When the pandemic first began, Mulhern said the challenges to the dairy industry were clear and immediate, while the solutions were not. But there were three things giving the industry confidence.
“We know the nation’s dairy farmers and our member cooperatives are essential to the nourishment of those we serve,” he said. “We knew the dairy community can be formidable when it pursues it goals with unity and commitment. And we knew that our organization has demonstrated a track record of effectiveness, even in the face of daunting tasks.”
There were dark times for dairy producers earlier this spring, however, there were pockets of positivity and brightness.
“Aided greatly by the efforts of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, international trade saw strong demand,” said Mulhern. “Here at home, retail milk flew off store shelves as consumers showed their support of the nutritious beverages they relied on most.”
The root of that resilience is centered around its farmers.
“Faced with an unprecedented rupture in the balance of supply and demand, many farmers used every tool in their arsenal to throttle back production,” said Mulhern. “From changing feed rations and milking schedules, to putting the brakes on their expansion, those efforts helped stave off what would have been a complete price collapse. They set the stage for a rebound.”
Mulhern said because dairy doesn’t stop, and that made the need to getting support for the industry essential to cushion COVID’s blows.
“We engaged in marathon discussions and strategized across the industry and throughout the government,” he said. “Together, we succeeded in making sure dairy received important levels of government disaster assistance—both in the first round of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program payments and the more recent CFAP 2.”
Mulhern added that there’s not a happy ending to this story since there’s still a lot of unknowns, but he is bullish.
“Co-ops remain the heart and soul of this industry, and this industry benefits best when our cooperatives speak with unified voices.”