June is National Dairy Month, and Washington has many reasons to celebrate. Washington is home to almost 400 dairies, nearly 275,000 cows, and 18,000 dairy jobs. In fact, while Washington may be known for our iconic apples, dairy is our second leading commodity, valued at $1.2 billion.
Growing up in Sunnyside, it isn’t hard to believe that Washington is a national leader in milk production. The region is filled with and surrounded by family-owned dairy farms and larger-scale processing plants, like Darigold, that help create local jobs in our rural community. However, the dairy industry is not immune to the challenges facing all sectors of agriculture in the U.S. today – from labor shortages and commodity prices to overregulation and trade negotiations.
I have met hundreds of Central Washington dairy farmers and producers during my time in public service, and they strive to serve as stewards of our environment. A Royal City dairy farmer, Austin Allred, was awarded the 2018 Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability Award by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy for his commitment to transforming his dairy into a zero-waste business.
In Congress, I have been working to improve conditions for our dairy farmers. Cows must be milked twice a day, and their harvest isn’t restricted to a growing season. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and I introduced an amendment to the Homeland Security Appropriations bill to expand access to the H-2A guest worker program for the dairy industry. Our amendment would allow dairy farms to petition for temporary workers at any point in the year, which will ease the pressure that dairy producers are feeling in Washington state.
The Farm Bill also contains several provisions to help the dairy industry, including the creation of the Dairy Margin Coverage program (DMC). This program acts as a safety net for our nation’s dairy farmers and helps them plan for changing market conditions. On June 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that signups for the program have begun at Farmers.gov, following through on their commitment to implement the Farm Bill as quickly as possible for farmers across America.
Congress must also act to provide expanded market access with one of the United States’ largest trading partners: Canada. The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) will do that. Last week, Mexico overwhelmingly voted to pass the USMCA, the first country to do so. On June 11, nearly 1000 agriculture groups, including the Northwest Dairy Association with Darigold, sent a letter to congressional leadership urging the ratification of the USMCA. The agreement continues to gain momentum in the U.S., and it is our dairy farmers who stand to benefit.
I will continue to support the dairy industry by backing strong trade agreements and the rollback of burdensome federal regulations. I encourage you to thank a Washington dairy farmer, and all those who work on dairies, for the hard work they do to put milk and other dairy products on our tables, the jobs they provide to our local communities, and the economic benefits they contribute to our state.
Congressman Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside serves the 4th Congressional District in Washington, D.C.