I started farming and helped my father with dairy cows. I loved it from the beginning when I was a little boy, staying in the dairy industry for almost 30 years. But there were too many mornings when I opened my milk check and was shocked at how small it was. Now I know that farmers are price takers, not price setters. We all work hard to produce a healthy, safe, and quality product, but staring at a check that could barely pay my expenses certainly wasn’t easy. I tried to understand how the milk price came about, but the system was and still is confusing. More than 40 years later, I hear the same frustration from almost every dairy farmer I encounter across the country.
As I tried to learn more, I realized that many different groups were trying to change the federal milk marketing orders that set prices — and they often disagreed. I would sit at my table and wish all the groups would come together and fix the system so farmers like me could get a fair price for our milk.
Well, it may have taken a few decades, but a few weeks ago it finally happened. Farm Bureau brought farmers together with representatives from cooperatives, processors and other milk organizations to find a way forward. Two years ago, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told me and our heads of state at the Farm Bureau that USDA wouldn’t change federal milk marketing orders until we could all come together to find a proposal that worked for everyone.
After two days of long discussions, we found common ground that could help us modernize milk marketing.
When we got together in Kansas City, we weren’t sure what common ground we could find. But sitting at the table is what we need to do if we want to make progress that would help farmers. After two days of long discussions, we found common ground that could help us modernize milk marketing. We need to update the federal milk marketing orders and make them more resilient so that we don’t face the same issues that we faced at the start of the pandemic. We also agreed that we need to improve price transparency and ensure that farmers are paid on time.
We could not have made this progress without coming to the table. Just as Farm Bureau has done many times over the years, our leadership in bringing people together is delivering results for American farmers and ranchers.
When several groups debated how best to move forward with federal climate policy, we noticed elected officials refused to take sides and pitted us against each other. But we knew that if we could stand together, we could help legislators create policies that respect farmers and treat us as equal partners in caring for our environment. We found common ground between agricultural, food, forestry and environmental groups and formed the Food and Ag Climate Alliance. As we worked to bring more transparency and fairness to livestock markets, we sat down with other livestock organizations who have different ideas than us. We passed areas we knew we couldn’t agree on and tried to find common ground.
As we work hard with members of Congress to develop policies that will help American farmers and ranchers, sometimes we need partners to make it to the finish line. That’s why we need to work with others who may not always agree with us. If we can find common ground, we can build on that foundation to ensure that American agriculture remains strong going forward.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, livestock and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.