MADISON, Wis. — While conceding it couldn’t change current oversupply and price problems, Wisconsin Dairy Task Force 2.0 has adopted 51 recommendations intended to improve the dairy industry’s future.

The task force met June 21 for the last time at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in Madison. Now comes the time for action on those recommendations, industry representatives said.

Wisconsin Dairy Task Force 2.0 final meeting

Wisconsin's Dairy Task Force 2.0 has adopted 51 recommendations intended to improve the dairy industry's future. The task force met June 21 for the last time.

The task force took into consideration the industry’s entire supply chain — from the men and women milking cows to consumers making choices at retail, said Brad Pfaff, secretary-designee of the Wisconsin agriculture department.

“This document recognizes all components,” he said of the task force’s final report.

The report is titled, “Toward a Vibrant Wisconsin Dairy Industry: Issues, Insights and Recommendations.”

The task force began in summer 2018 as a joint effort of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, with the University of Wisconsin-System. Since that time task-force members served on subcommittees to study the state’s dairy industry. They made recommendations to address short-term and long-term challenges.

Ray Cross, president of the UW-System, said, “I was impressed with how extensive and well-written (the report) was. It captured so much of what you’re trying to tell us. Now the challenge is how to make it happen.”

He suggested creation of a “dashboard” that would show how the 51 recommendations are being acted upon. There already is action being taken on 19 of the recommendations, he said.

Wis. Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-15-Evansville, said to the task force, “I can promise you (the Wisconsin State Legislature) will be working on the recommendations.”

The Wisconsin State Assembly already is paying attention to the recommendations. The day prior to the June 21 meeting of the task force, the assembly agreed upon a joint resolution that stated, “(The) Wisconsin Legislature would strongly encourage all efforts to increase consumption of milk, up to and including, whole flavored milk, among America’s youth.” The Wisconsin Senate concurred.

“There’s a lot of bipartisan agreement in the state capitol regarding whole milk,” said Wis. Rep. Jon Plumer, R-42-Lodi, and ex officio member of the task force.

Brody Stapel is president of Edge Dairy Farmers Cooperative, and a dairy farmer from Cedar Grove, Wisconsin. He served on the task force.

“I commend the legislators for pushing forward for whole milk in schools,” he said.

One of the task-force recommendations is to support U.S. Congressional passage of the “Whole Milk for 4 Healthy Kids Act of 2019” — House Rule 832 — which would allow school-lunch programs to offer flavored and unflavored milk throughout the country. That would include whole milk.

A week prior to the final task-force meeting, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin-Oshkosh, and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley-Pennsylvania, introduced the “Milk in Lunches for Kids Act.” That legislation would allow schools to serve all forms of milk, including flavored and unflavored whole milk as well as 2 percent milk. Currently schools are allowed to serve with lunches only flavored and unflavored skim as well as 1 percent milk.

The U.S. Congress in 2010 had passed the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act,” which amended nutrition standards in the School Lunch Program. It limited school’s unflavored milk options to skim and 1 percent. It also limited flavored-milk options to skim milk only. The U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2018 instituted a rule that allowed schools to also serve flavored 1 percent milk to students.

“Over-regulation has limited the healthy varieties of milk schools can serve students,” Johnson said. “Since these Obama-era regulations went into place, milk consumption has notably declined in schools across the country.”

Grassroots effort necessary

Legislators will be important in bringing recommendations to fruition. But it will be incumbent upon task-force members along with dairy and farm organizations to support and promote them at the grassroots level, said David Ward, director of government relations and dairy at Cooperative Network.

Paul Scharfman, president of Specialty Cheese Company of Reeseville, Wisconsin, said, “I don’t know what the legislature can do. It’s up to us rapacious capitalists … and I’m a Democrat. Private enterprise has to pick up the ball.”

Cross said, “But the legislature needs to break down some of the barriers to do that.”

Beth Wells is the director of farm-milk management at Organic Valley and a member of the task force.

“We need to keep the urgency,” she said. “(The dairy industry has) an urgent situation. Let’s keep going.”

It will be important to focus on innovation — from the farm all through the supply chain, she said.

“If we truly focus on it, it may help,” she said.

Visit datcp.wi.gov and click on the “Dairy Task Force 2.0“ link to download a copy of the final report and for more information.

Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.