In 2010, a small group of DBA members started a new cooperative. The hope was this co-op would charge farmers less for verification services and would reinvest the rest of its money into policy initiatives that would benefit the entire dairy community.
The co-op rebranded itself Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative last year. It now has nearly 800 farmer members in nine states. As DBA’s sister organization, the two groups share staff, resources and a similar ideology.
DBA’s focus has always been on Wisconsin, but Edge’s focus is national policy, which reflects its more geographically diverse membership. There’s a lull in Madison right now because our state Legislature is not in session, so here’s a look at some of the top issues Edge has been working on.
Edge has publicly supported legislation that would create a new visa category for year-round agricultural workers. On dairy farms, existing workers could apply for coverage under this visa and it could also be used to bring in new workers. In exchange for this, farms would be expected to eventually participate in E-verify.
Edge has been working with other national and state agricultural groups to rally support for the bill, which is called the AG and Legal Workforce Act. We have been doing personal outreach to get more cosponsors and to move more legislators to a yes vote. The bill now has bipartisan support and has a chance of getting the votes it needs for passage, although much remains before it could become law.
Trade and tariffs
Uncertainty over trade has created a lot of anxiety in the agricultural community. Edge has met repeatedly with staff from the U.S. Trade Representative’s office. Our discussions have focused on tariffs and a desire to see NAFTA and other trade agreements head in a positive direction. In June, I joined leaders from about 20 co-ops for a White House meeting. This gave us a chance to highlight how harmful a protracted trade war could be for farmers.
We have also been engaging with other agricultural groups, food processors and retailers to ensure members of Congress and our governors understand what is at stake for agriculture. These people can be our best advocates with the administration.
Edge visited with legislators on the farm bill the same week that the Senate was finalizing its language, and we will be returning to D.C. as the conference committee irons out the differences between the two bills.
We remain skeptical of the Margin Protection Program. Our goal is to give dairy farmers more options and flexibility when it comes to risk management. We will fight to allow farmers to elect annually which risk management tools they are going to use and to enroll in more than one risk management program at the same time.
We also see other ways for the farm bill to help milk prices through driving demand. We are glad that funding for trade promotion is likely to be restored. We also hope the nutrition title could incentivize the purchase of some dairy products. Both versions of the bill do something in this area, although they take different approaches.
Mislabeling plant-based products
Legislation was introduced in the House and Senate to try to force the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to do its job and keep plant-based products from illegally labeling themselves milk, cheese or ice cream. Some language on this issue was passed as part of an appropriations bill.
Edge and DBA signed on to a letter from various Wisconsin groups to apply further pressure on FDA. We’ve also appealed directly to FDA during a public comment period that touched on labeling and standards of identity. This included written comments, but also testimony by Edge’s Aaron Stauffacher.