A U.S. House Agriculture subcommittee held a field hearing in Winona on new federal dairy policy May 31.

Subcommittee chairman U.S. Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.) said the nation's dairy industry has changed significantly in recent years.

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"It can no longer be looked at from a regional perspective or even a domestic one," said Gutknecht.

"I was pleased to hear that Upper Midwest dairy producers and processors are mindful of these changes, prepared to face the challenges before them, and are open to the idea of modernized polices that will help them succeed in the global dairy industry."

Approximately 90 people attended the forum, which was the third convened by Gutknecht under the subcommittee's jurisdiction related to federal farm policy and legislation.

Among the speakers were Dana Allen of the Minnesota Milk Producers Association, Rollingstone dairy farmer and Land O'Lakes Dairy Cooperative delegate Mark Clark, Walnut Grove dairy farmer and AMPI Milk Producers Inc. board member Bruce Maas and Dr. Robert Cropp, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin.

Many of the speakers said the dairy support price of $9.90 is too low, and the Milk Income Loss Contract program should be continued.

Clark said MILC has been positive for Upper Midwest producers.

"During the period of time that milk prices were extremely depressed, it provided producers with some breathing room to decide what to do about the future," explained Clark.

Clark said, however, that the next farm program needs a combination of approaches as a solution for the U.S. dairy industry.

"There likely won't be a 'one-size-fits-all' dairy program," he noted.

Cropp suggested that Congress give "serious consideration" to a counter-cyclical support program for dairy in the next farm program.

He said that type of program "can be effective in providing dairy farmers with an appropriate safety net and at a reasonable federal budget exposure level."

Maas proposed four "safety net" ideas: increase the support price, the Commodity Credit Corporation must increase the milk price equivalent it's paying to remove dairy products from the open market, provide a counter-cyclical payment, and manage dairy product imports.

Maas said a strong safety net "should prevent the collapse of milk prices to a level that can't financially sustain the operation of average dairy farm. The dairy price support program should provide long-term, market-based income."

Allen said milk assembly costs from the farm to the processing plant are unacceptable. He said AMPI backs a higher price support that works in combination with a counter-cyclical program like MILC, plus reform of the Federal Milk Marketing Order system.

He said the latter would encourage responsible dairy production in environmentally suitable areas of the nation.

"Additionally, we must have a domestic pricing structure that encourages the production of dairy products that consumers demand, in particular, milk protein concentrates," said Allen.

"For many reasons, it makes sense to ensure a domestic supply of a wide variety of natural proteins extracted from our cows' milk."

Allen encouraged Congress to be involved with World Trade Organization negotiations by not allowing other nations to export their subsidized dairy protein products into the United States.