By: Anja Raudabaugh, CEO

As we close another year out at Western United Dairies, it’s important reflect on what worked well and what needs some fine-tuning with our overall strategy. The baselines for success include keeping locally-grown dairy products on the menu -while increasing their availability.  WUD feels that protecting dairy products at all costs ensures our farmers a pathway to stay in California. This year was an exceptional year for increased availability of dairy products, and WUD is proud of the work we performed in this space.

Our legislative dominance in Sacramento included two critical wins that uniquely protected and preserved the future of dairy products in California. WUD supported and engaged heavily in AB 181, which increased funding for school nutrition programs by an additional $700M in 2023. Next year, California will be the first state to implement a statewide Universal Meals Program for school children. Every student in pre-K through grade 12 will be eligible to receive a free breakfast and lunch every school day, eliminating the free meal stigma for needy students and improving all students’ food and nutrition security. On June 30, Governor Newsom signed AB 181, the Education Budget Trailer Bill, which appropriates $700 million to support school nutrition programs across the state. Specifically, this funding provides kitchen infrastructure grants to schools for equipment specifically for milk coolers, chillers, and bulk dispensers in larger urban areas for chocolate and reduced fat milk.

WUD also engaged heavily -first as practical adversaries to AB 558 –which originally was a bill to eliminate beef and dairy products in the school lunch program by incentivizing school districts to choose plant based options at a rate of 35 cents per meal. Using our strategic partnerships in Sacramento, we leveraged the bill to include even more dairy products on the menu -while eliminating the provisions we couldn’t live with. The final product included wide-ranging nutrition access expansions for dairy products and was stripped of the plant based provisions.  By the end -WUD supported AB 558 and asked for Governor Newsom’s signature. AB 558, “The Child Nutrition Act of 2022,” was signed into law in September 2022.

By supporting the amended version of AB 558, WUD kept the focus on improving both the food and nutrition security of young children in California by establishing a program that will allow local educational agencies to serve eligible non-school-aged children breakfast or a morning snack. This type of program helps ensure that more children living in California have additional opportunities to enjoy California-grown, nutrient-rich, locally and minimally processed foods – like dairy milk, cheese, eggs, chicken, beef, fruits, and vegetables – that contribute to their health, growth, and development. Finally, locally sourced, minimally processed foods support California’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions through ongoing research, innovation, and the steadfast commitment of producers across California

Additionally, as part of the Budget Trailer bill cycle, WUD ensured that there was a strict requirement that all plant-based alternatives to milk, beef, or other animal products meet National School Meal Nutrition Standard (only soymilk qualifies for a federal school meal reimbursement–but it’s not grown in CA and is typically not sourced by school districts).

One of the key strategic changes the WUD Board executed in 2022 was to green-light the hiring of a policy expert -a full-time dietitian to assist in the organization’s advocacy in the capitol. This strategic hire greatly expanded our reach and education on the nutritional benefits of dairy in the capitol. Members of the Legislature and their staffs were accompanied by WUD’s nutrition expert regularly throughout hearings in the capitol. This greatly contributed to the overall success of our advocacy strategy. Not that WUD has claimed this space; however, we must defend it. WUD will be keeping our expert close as we stare down another brand new legislative cycle in 2023.

Another key focus WUD had in 2022 was to provide some version of drought relief for dairy farmers. After earmarking a total of $253M for ag-based drought projects, the Department of Water Resources selected one that rose above other ideas -Landflex []. More than just a fallowing program -Landflex’s goals are to directly assist farmers and their GSA’s in moving into expedited SGMA compliance by reducing demand on groundwater. A farmer is paid to fallow -but also to transition to lower water use crops and is also paid a value for his “overdraft” credits.  For the first time in history, California has launched a program that allows farmers flexibility in tackling SGMA by establishing value for the wet water -versus land. Although the program is set to roll out to the most critically overdrafted basins first, WUD is working with DWR to scale the program out and up to different parts of the state.  Since this drought funding has already been secured -we greatly appreciate as many ideas as possible that would expand access to these resources across the state.

Rounding out 2022, I always encourage our member’s feedback.  Good or bad feedback is how our organization grows and responds to pressures better.  Most importantly however, our member’s engagement greatly helps shape the priorities of the state’s dairy industry.  Whether you want to run for the Board, volunteer for our PAC committee, or just stay engaged with us -WUD’s staff is humble and grateful for the support of our dairy families. Without your support our work would not be possible. Have a blessed holiday season, and happy New Year!

Sponsored By