Clovis, Calif., (February 27, 2017) – USDA officials came to Clovis to give a Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) 101 lesson to an eager crowd. The attendees, which included approximately 65 producers, processors, media and attorneys, learned about the ins and outs of FMMOs through an hour- long presentation. In particular, details of the California FMMO proposal were outlined and explained in front of an intrigued audience. For a topic riddled with complicated jargon and technical details, the agency did as well as it could have to sum up the proposal succinctly. Once USDA finished their presentation, time was allowed for questions; to ensure a speedy process, only written questions were considered. Inquiries pertaining to the “why” of the decision were not allowed, so the bulk of the discussion centered on clarifications, technical details and procedural follow-ups. On that front specifically, USDA reiterated that comments on the proposal were due by May 15, 2017. The agency also estimated they would issue a final decision around Fall 2017 (if there are no requests to cancel the proceedings). From there, producers would get to vote on the proposed order. Qualified coops, who are allowed to bloc vote on behalf of their producers, did not officially announce if they will exercise that right or not. A yes vote from two-thirds of the producers voting or two-thirds of the milk volume voting is required for a proposal to be implemented.
Only one non-USDA person was allowed some time at the podium and it was a representative from the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), who made a brief statement on the quota piece of the proposal. Unfortunately, that statement did not provide additional information. CDFA, just like all of us, only saw USDA’s proposal when it was released and has been looking into it since. The dynamics at play on this topic are rather interesting: while USDA’s proposal allows the quota program to continue and authorizes deductions from pooled producers’ milk checks to fund said program, it passes the baton to CDFA on how to carry the program. CDFA then has to determine how they could carry such program (including non-pooled producers or not) and what procedures would be necessary to implement it. CDFA is considered an interested party and therefore cannot communicate, just like all of us, with USDA on this matter due to ex parte rules prohibiting USDA staff from discussing these issues. The state agency reassured the audience this was a top priority and that details would be published in a CDFA publication as soon as possible.
If a fly on the wall could speak to its impressions of the mood in the room, it would probably state that reactions to the proposal were all over the place. From giddy excitement to boiling irritation, interested parties seem to have a wide range of opinions on what this means for California. Fortunately, the most common stance appears to be one of careful hope and consideration, coupled with a desire for finding out more about the implications. At this time, it’s probably a wise approach. This has been a marathon, and trying to rush to the finish line may not be helpful for the last necessary steps.
If you are interested in viewing the meeting, USDA posted a video here. WUD also provided a brief summary of the key points of the proposal in a previous Friday Update; if you missed it, you can find it here. As this process unfolds, we will continue to analyze potential impacts for California producers and provide comments to USDA to ensure this proposal comes out as beneficial as it can be for our members.