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Weekly Column: Celebrating Idaho Dairy Production By Addressing Its Challenges

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

June is National Dairy Month, providing an opportunity to celebrate one of Idaho’s economic engines. 

The University of Idaho reports, “Idaho, ranking third in the United States for milk production, garnered its highest-ever milk revenues in 2022.  With estimated cash receipts for 2022 of $4.2 billion, revenues from milk production are the highest of all agricultural commodities produced in Idaho.”  However, inflation, supply chain issues, feed expenses and other contributors to soaring input costs drive up the cost to produce milk, making the break-even cost of milk production higher.  As we look to the future of the dairy industry, we must continue to work to address the challenges facing Idaho dairy producers:

Labor: Access to a willing and qualified workforce is primary among the challenges identified by Idaho dairy producers.  This farm labor crisis is compounded by the runaway growth of the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR), which has been further complicated by a Biden Administration AEWR rule adding financial and administrative burdens on farmers using the H-2A agricultural guest worker program.  I continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to nullify this costly and burdensome rule and ensure we have a viable farm workforce system. 

Trade: Idaho dairy farmers produce more than Idahoans can consume, enabling Idahoans to feed a growing world.  In fact, Idaho dairy production is so prolific that if Idahoans had to consume all products produced within the state, every resident would need to devour 2 pounds of cheese every day, according to the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.  Idaho dairy contributes to nearly one-sixth of all U.S. milk products being sold in markets around the world, but the tariff gap between the U.S. and trade competitors is widening. 

Increasing the freedom of Idaho dairy producers to sell into foreign markets represents significant opportunities for Idaho dairy production.  We also cannot let up in ensuring existing trade partners live up to their trade commitments.  Last year, we achieved an important victory in holding Canada accountable for meeting its dairy import commitments under the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement.  I continue to press the Biden Administration to enforce existing trade agreements and work with Congress to negotiate new comprehensive free trade agreements that include market access for Idaho producers. 

Marketing Integrity: Idaho Farm Bureau Federation reports, “The nation’s dairy industry also faces a rise in the introduction of alternative meats, lab proteins and cultured dairy products, which are all becoming more mainstream.”  I joined fellow U.S. Senator for Idaho Jim Risch and others in introducing multiple pieces of legislation to codify the definition of cheese and address labeling to make sure customers can be sure they are purchasing the standard of value and quality found in real Idaho milk. 

Farm Bill: As Congress reauthorizes federal farm programs, it is also expected to consider updates to the National School Lunch Program that could include legislation removing unnecessary limits on the types of milk schools can distribute, balancing choice and health in the cafeteria.  Conservation programs, authorized in the Farm Bill, are also of assistance to Idaho producers as they help dairy producers meet environmental goals that benefit everyone.  As Congress considers these programs, I will continue to advocate for making wise use of taxpayer dollars while providing an appropriate safety net and risk management tools to enable Idaho farmers and ranchers to weather difficult times and make continued advancements.

The importance of Idaho dairy production is deeply felt in Idaho communities where farms and ranches put food on our tables and support jobs.  As I work with Idaho dairy producers on these and other issues and celebrate this National Dairy Month, may Idaho dairy farmers’ work be blessed with continued growth and success.

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