The agriculture interests of family farmers have never been better represented at National Farmers Union (NFU) than with the recent addition of Zachary Clark to the organization’s Washington, D.C., staff. Clark, who hails from Connecticut, spent the last six years of his career on Capitol Hill, where he focused primarily on agriculture.

“As a Hill staffer, I came to rely on the expertise and grassroots support of NFU and its ability to communicate the needs of family farmers. When a position on its government affairs staff recently opened, I immediately recognized its value and worked actively to be considered,” Clark explained.

New England agriculture’s presence on Capitol Hill is the strongest it’s been in decades, with significant representation on both House and Senate committees of jurisdiction. This presence has helped deliver results for family farmers across New England.

Working closely with those staffers, NFU was able to achieve an 84 percent success rate for its legislative initiatives in the 2014 Farm Bill. Now at NFU, Clark is focusing on several issues critical to family farmers all around the country, including dairy and crop insurance.

“NFU’s ability to rally its members nationally and provide leadership and input on the dairy program helped prevent the adoption of several harmful dairy provisions and paved the way for a program that we can all be proud of,” said Clark.

Most recently, Clark worked for Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT), who sits on the House Agriculture Committee and is co-chair of the Congressional Dairy Caucus. “I’ve enjoyed fighting for the interests of the nation’s dairy farmers and am glad to bring my experience and passion for dairy to NFU,” said Clark.

Roger Noonan, president of New England Farmers Union, said, “We’re pleased to have Zach continuing to serve family farmers as a member of our National Farmers Union team and appreciate that he understands the unique issues facing New England dairy farmers. That’s a win for our members.”

Clark noted that the 2014 Farm Bill contained many positive provisions to strengthen the dairy safety net. Nearly all of the 2008 Farm Bill dairy policies – the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program, the Dairy Product Price Support Program (DPPSP) and the Dairy Export Incentive Program (DEIP) – have been eliminated. The largest component of the new Farm Bill’s dairy policy is the Dairy Margin Protection Program (MPP-Dairy), which provides financial assistance to dairy farmers when a national-level trigger indicates that feed costs are higher relative to milk prices.

This is an annual elective program, as dairy farmers are not required to participate. Participating farmers will be required to establish production histories for their operations, which will be insured on a percentage basis depending on the coverage that is chosen. A given margin is then selected with catastrophic coverage protecting $4 margins without any premium cost other than a $100 annual administrative fee. Subsidized supplemental coverage can be obtained in 50-cent increments up to $8 margins. MPP-Dairy payments are provided when negative margins are triggered for two consecutive months.

Another new program, the Dairy Product Donation Program (DPDP) is designed to address declines in dairy prices and provide nutrition assistance to low-income groups. DPDP kicks in if dairy production margins remain below $4 per hundredweight for more than two consecutive months. When DPDP is triggered, USDA will purchase commodity dairy products until:

Market prices rise enough to bring the margin above $4 per hundredweight.

The U.S. cheddar cheese price exceeds 105 percent of world market price and the domestic margin is between $3 and $4 per hundredweight.

The U.S. cheddar cheese price exceeds 107 percent of world market price and domestic margin is below $3 per hundredweight.

Three months have passed, even if margins remain below $4 per hundredweight.

Working in tandem, these programs offer a level of protection that aims to prevent events like those witnessed in 2009, when producers saw negative margins as milk prices fell and feed prices rose. While the USDA made MILC payments to producers when the Boston class I milk price fell under $16.94 per hundredweight (adjusted to reflect the prices of common feed types), MPP-Dairy offers an increased level of protection that guards against negative margins.

The deadline to sign up for the first year of the program was in December. Producers may sign up for the 2016 production year between July 1 and September 30, 2015, at their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office. FSA will be working with states’ cooperative extension services on producer education forums. FSA has also released a Web-based decision tool that will assist producers in arriving at their coverage elections. The tool can be found at http://www.fsa.usda.gov/FSA/pages/content/farmBill/fb_MPPDTool.jsp.

“These new dairy safety programs are only available for farmers who sign up,” said Noonan. “We will be watching to see if the programs perform well and serve New England’s dairy farmers.”

Andrew Jerome is the Communications Coordinator for the New England Farmers Union. New England Farmers Union is a membership organization that serves the region’s family farmers through legislation, cooperation and education. Learn more at http://www.newenglandfarmersunion.org.