The next joint Department of Justice/USDA workshop will examine competition in the dairy industry. At Friday's workshop in Madison, Wisc. National Council of Farmer Cooperatives President and CEO Chuck Conner anticipates a heavy focus on farmer-owned cooperatives. After all a vast majority of the milk marketed in the U.S. is marketed through farmer owned co-ops.
Conner says NCFC and a number of its members will be in Madison to tell the story of how co-ops help to preserve family farms and foster competition.
"We want to communicate the message that for the marketing of dairy products the best way to bring about the maximum amount of competition is through a farmer owned cooperative," Conner said. "These are organizations that are farmer run, farmer owned and ultimately those co-ops that market dairy products function for the sole purpose of helping their farmer owners."
According to Conner in a speech given at NCFC's 2010 Washington Conference last week U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack recognized the integral role farmer cooperatives play in the operations of producers across the country and in driving economic growth in rural America.
"He indicated strongly that the Department of Agriculture remains committed to the co-op business structure and the role that we play in providing a more level playing field for those farmer producers, dairy farmers in particular, to operate."
While Conner says he understands the workshop is a chance for several different sectors to voice their frustrations he still hopes to hear similar expressions of support from Vilsack and the DOJ officials. Just a few months ago Conner notes there was interest in re-writing the Capper-Volstead Act, which is essential to the operation of cooperatives. But since that time NCFC has been sharing the message of farmer cooperatives through the "Providing for America" campaign, educating the Department of Justice and USDA on the value cooperatives bring to the marketplace.
"I think we've had some success at that and they're acknowledging that there is value in a business structure whereby the farmer owns the processing operation that is buying his milk," Conner said. "Through that organization a farmer has a better voice and a better chance to be able to get a fair price for his product than otherwise if he were trying to sell his milk or milk products into today's retail marketplace. It would just not be a competitive situation, but as an organization, as a co-op, bringing those farmers together, there is a chance at getting that fair price."
Without farmer co-ops Conner says farmers would receive less money for the crops they produce and consumers would pay more for the food they buy. He says the workshop in Madison is a great opportunity to share that message. He expects a number of producers will testify that co-ops are a vital part of their farms and communities.