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NODPA’s 9th Annual Field Days: Producer-Only Meeting

The NODPA producer meeting gets started. President Henry Perkins thanks our sponsors,
then waxes philosophical.

Added September 14, 2009.The producer-only meeting at the NODPA Field Days traditionally suffers from “agenda creep” as it is the last event of a long day and this year was no different. Despite a much abbreviated NODPA business meeting the producer-only gathering didn’t start until 8:00 pm – luckily there were no mosquitoes or black flies to aggravate the participants, just the continuing uncertainty about the future of organic dairy.

In the tradition of this meeting all participants agreed that no processors would be targeted for specific criticism and all producers could express their opinions without fear of reprisal.

Henry Perkins asked for any criticisms of NODPA’s positions or actions over the last year and there was none. There was praise for NODPA’s work in coordinating the response to the Proposed Rule on Access to Pasture and the role that FOOD Farmers played in providing a national voice for organic dairy producers. With a fresh attitude towards organics at USDA, producers welcomed the promise of the new administration and hoped that there would be actual change, although a few more cynical participants shared their opinion that change at USDA is not possible. Some wondered why NODPA wasn’t involved in more legal actions but accepted the explanation that NODPA, with their membership of the National Organic Coalition, Organic Trade Association and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, partners with many different non-profit groups who have the legal expertise and resources to represent NODPA’s priorities on legal challenges.

Pay price is always a topic at the producers meetings as it has repeatedly been voted as the number one priority for NODPA. This year it was centered on the uncertainty that producers are feeling related to the price they will receive for their organic milk and whether they will have their contracts renewed and what conditions will be attached. One of the reasons that many gave for becoming organic was to have a stable pay price, which is no longer the case. Some of the producer comments are paraphrased below:

  • “I’m hoping that I will receive a contract within the next week or so, not sure what it will be.”
  • “I don’t know what will be in my next check as I don’t know what my pay price is.”
  • “Haven’t heard about what my quota will be from my appeal.”
  • “I’ve cut back 10%; hope it works.”
  • “Wanted to use over-quota milk on my farm but I wasn’t allowed.”
  • “Let’s thank God we have a handler that will take our milk.”
  • “I have a good price right now; not sure what my next contract will be.”
  • “I haven’t received my contract yet; not sure if the milk company will honor their commitments.”
  • “I had to re-sign the amendment; I have a mortgage to pay.”
  • “Can we get the dry lot operations shut off?”
  • “Rotten to make promises that you are unable to keep. For as bad as that is not to keep promises, it is more important that they are still around when we get through this. We need to make more ado about what we have and not what we don’t have.”

Supply Management was discussed and the fact that all the supply management is being imposed by the processors. There are many models to look at that have producers participate in decisions about supply management. There was concern expressed that once we reach a better balance between supply and demand that we not forget the lessons learned during 2009.

Producers at the Field Days also expressed great concern about any growth in the natural milk label and saw it as a threat to the future of organic. Concern was expressed by most producers that the market leader, Horizon, has produced a naturally branded product which could undermine consumers’ confidence in the benefits of organic milk at a time when we need more sales of organic to keep organic dairy producers in business.

Producers reluctantly ended their meeting at about 10:00 pm.