Tate County Farm Bureau member Mike Ferguson recently participated in a hearing held by the United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, Poultry, Local Food Systems, and Food Safety and Security to discuss areas of improvement and reform for milk pricing.

In his opening testimony, Ferguson presented numbers on the steady and rapid decline of Mississippi dairy farms in the last five years.

“We have lost approximately 28 dairies over this time, from 86 in 2016 to 60 now, a 30% decrease,” he said. “These farms employ milking staff, nutritionists, veterinarians, and more. They support local businesses as well as state and national enterprises. Many of our 60 family farms in the state will not be here in a few years if things don’t change for them. But those who are still here are part of our backbone and build their lives on hard work, integrity, and selflessness. Without them, negative changes will be felt from a local to a national level.”

He also focused on adjustments and reforms that need to made to the Class 1 Mover.

“As you know, milk pricing issues are challenging and complex across regional lines,” Ferguson said. “It’s important that we reform the Class I mover to make sure last year’s conditions aren’t repeated.”

His suggested reform options included:

  • Congress should consider immediately going back to the ‘higher-of’ until the dairy industry can proceed to a national rulemaking process through USDA’s Dairy Programs to consider
    alternative Class I milk pricing rules. Under this more transparent process, stakeholders can provide evidence and testimony in support of or in opposition to proposed changes in milk pricing and pooling rules. While this may upend existing risk management efforts, a formal rulemaking process would ensure input can be received and reviewed by all stakeholders.
  • A more frequent and thorough review of the national adjusting factor in the Class I mover calculation. The industry could consider this option and others through the transparent rulemaking process to better protect Class I producers like myself.
  • A more frequent and thorough review of the national adjusting factor in the Class I mover calculation. Congress could advance that option to better protect Class I producers like myself.

In addition, he presented issues many southeast dairy farmers have with the multiple component pricing for federal orders 5,6 and 7.

“It is likely that milk proteins will continue to be a major nutritional and economic value-added dairy product in both domestic and international markets,” he said. “Implementing a more uniform pricing scheme across large portions of the U.S. will help to improve component productivity and drive milk to its highest valued and best use.”

“Importantly, for farms like mine in the Southeast, component pricing could improve the price for the milk we receive and it could facilitate innovation and investment in the Southeastern dairy industry,” he continued. “This too can be addressed through a rule making process, but I urge the subcommittee to carefully consider this issue in your conversations.”

Ferguson operates a Holstein milking herd of 150 head in eastern Tate County. He has been in the dairy business for 45 years and has been a member of Farm Bureau since 1985.

“Over the years, Mike has served in numerous dairy leadership positions, giving him the expertise to sit as a witness for this hearing,” Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation President Mike McCormick said. “I congratulate him on a job well done representing Farm Bureau and the southeast dairy industry.”

To view Ferguson’s full written testimony, click here.