A Look Inside the FMMO Hearing

USDA’s Federal Milk Marketing Order hearing will continue following a recess through the Thanksgiving holiday. Peter Vitaliano, National Milk Producers Federation Vice President of Economic Policy & Market Research, says the hearing is making progress.

“We’re in the last topic of five topics. It is moving more slowly than expected. Because it did not finish in time for the original schedule, the facility was not available until four and a half days, the week after Thanksgiving, but it was not available beyond that. So, it’s another five days right afterwards in another facility not very far away. So, there’s nine and a half days with a chance that it will finish. but a chance that it may not. And that’s all contingent upon government funding being available.”

Vitaliano says the hearing was organized around the five proposals from NMPF.

“But with other related proposals from other groups, and most notably by opposition in those same categories, there has been very strong opposition primarily from the processing groups. That’s the dynamic of the hearing. I know the Secretary of Agriculture asked for all the groups to get together, but the producer groups are together. That’s the key thing. And producers are the ones who vote for federal orders. But the processor groups, that’s a very important constituency, because they’re the ones that the orders are imposed upon. And so, they have a say and USDA is listening and they’re going to come up with something that’ll probably give something to all sides.”

Vitaliano says getting to a vote is a lengthy process. “It’s a quasi-judicial process, where it is presided over by an administrative law judge and its formal courtroom procedure of witness testimony, cross examination, objections, etc. The main difference is that an administrative law judge does not write the decision the way a criminal judge would, USDA and its marketing specialists are the ones who write the decisions. And we’re expecting, if the hearing does indeed conclude the end of that first week in December, the process then goes through a number of steps and a vote that would actually implement the orders would be taken toward the end of 2024.”

While the process takes time, Vitaliano says the modernization is needed. “The orders were really designed to operate most effectively when most of the milk that was covered in order went to fluid use. The orders are still relevant today, but technically with less and less of the milk in a given order going to fluid, structurally it makes the orders more difficult to operate. So, when it’s done, there’s going to be probably some decisions and some issues that have to be examined. In the not too distant future, there are going to be some orders with low class one utilizations. But this procedure is bringing the provisions of the orders up to date after being in many cases not updated in almost 23 years now and it’ll be 25 by the time the final decision is voted on.”

Learn more and follow the process online at NMPF.org.