Fighting to Save Wisconsin Dairy Farmers

by Eva Marie Woywod
U.S. Rep. Ron Kind
Photo: Contributed U.S. Rep. Ron Kind
Photo: Contributed

On April 10, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind to the Acting Secretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture urging him to take action to assist Wisconsin dairy farmers who are being negatively impacted by Grassland Dairy Product’s decision to stop purchasing their milk.

It is reported that Grassland Dairy’s action was taken due to what is being called protectionist Canadian trade policies restricting American dairy exports in violation of their trade commitments to the United States. The milk processor reportedly told 75 Wisconsin farmers it could no longer purchase their milk because of the Canadian policy.

In his letter, Rep. Kind stated: “Over the past few days, I have heard directly from many Wisconsin dairy farmers who are deeply concerned about what this action by Grassland Dairy will mean for their family farms. Grassland’s decision further demonstrates why the U.S. needs to enact trade policies that level the playing field for our farmers. However, in the meantime, I am calling on USDA to take all available steps to make sure Wisconsin dairy farmers do not lose their farms”

The congressman went on to state, "I am deeply concerned that these changes to Canada’s milk system may violate existing trade commitments by discouraging U.S. dairy exports to Canada. I have spoken directly with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and others in the Trump Administration about these issues to make sure Wisconsin farmers have access to new markets to sell their products and to ensure that Canada’s habitual protectionist dairy policies are a top priority in the context of any NAFTA renegotiation. The recent decision by Grassland Dairy Products highlights the need for action to ensure dairy farmers have access to global markets."

Grassland Dairy Products has claimed that a new Canadian system for ultra-filtered milk as the reason for a loss of exports to the Canadian market. Currently Canada has a surplus.

Rep. Kind finished his letter with a strong warning, "In the meantime, the dairy farmers who received notice from Grassland Dairy Products may be forced out of business if unable to find another processor."

Also last week, Wisconsin’s entire Congressional delegation asked President Donald Trump’s administration to act on the Canadian trade barriers. In the letter, the lawmakers urged President Trump to bring Canada into compliance with its trade commitments.

To follow is the letter co-signed by the entire Wisconsin Congressional delegation:

Dear Secretary Ross, Acting Trade Representative Vaughn, and Acting Secretary Young,

On behalf of Wisconsin’s dairy farmers, we are writing to raise our concerns about recent actions by Canada that are restricting American milk exports to the Canadian market. Dairy farmers in Wisconsin and across the country rely on exports to remain viable. Last year, the United States dairy industry exported roughly 15 percent of its milk production. In Wisconsin – America’s Dairyland – the dairy industry contributes more than $43 billion on average to the economy each year.

Canada has recently taken steps to implement targeted milk pricing programs that have compromised the ability of Wisconsin dairy farmers to access the Canadian market under existing trade agreements. These changes have caused the displacement of current imports from the United States, including ultra-filtered milk processed in Wisconsin. Canada traditionally used five classes to price its dairy products. In April 2016, Ontario province implemented its own additional sixth class, which has significantly restricted the exports of Wisconsin’s dairy farmers into the Canadian market. Further exacerbating these trade barriers, Canada implemented a Class 7 National Ingredients Strategy, further displacing American exports and processors’ ability to accept milk supplies. In addition, Canada’s lack of transparency regarding these policies compounds the problem that our dairy industry is facing.

We are greatly concerned that these programs appear to violate Canada’s existing trade obligations to the United States. Just last week, more than 75 Wisconsin dairy farmers were notified that the processor they sell to would no longer purchase their milk effective May 1, 2017, as a direct result of Canada’s restrictive trade policies. This situation underscores how Canada’s new pricing policies are not only undermining trade with the United States but are displacing fresh milk produced by hard-working dairy farmers in Wisconsin and around the country.

We urge you to take immediate action to address this dire situation where apparent unfair trade practices are putting Wisconsin dairy farmers’ livelihoods at risk. We look forward to working with you to break down these trade barriers, enforce existing rules, and improve Canadian market access for our producers in any future trade negotiations.

Sincerely,

Speaker Paul D. Ryan

Congressman Sean Duffy

Governor Scott Walker

Senator Ron Johnson

Senator Tammy Baldwin

Congressman Mark Pocan

Congressman Ron Kind

Congresswoman Gwen Moore

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner

Congressman Glenn Grothman

Congressman Mike Gallagher