USDA has announced a proposed rule for applying the dairy promotion checkoff to imported dairy products, a development many years in the making that has drawn the praise of the National Milk Producers Federation.

Earlier this week, USDA published a proposed rule spelling out how it will calculate the checkoff on imports. The proposal will assess the equivalent of 7.5 cents per hundredweight on all dairy-based imports, including cheese and butter and casein and milk protein concentrates.

“At a time when most of the news about the dairy economy is bad, it’s heartening to see that we have finally prevailed in a decade-long battle to ensure a level playing field between U.S.-made dairy products, and imports” said Jerry Kozak, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation.

“All that America’s dairy farmers have ever asked is that dairy importers, who benefit from the world’s largest dairy market, pay for their fair share to help expand that market, the same way that our farmers do.”

USDA currently assesses a research and market promotion fee on a number of imported agricultural products, including foreign-made cotton textiles and apparel. Cotton producers and importers voted to extend the cotton checkoff two decades ago.

Kozak said NMPF first worked with Congress to include a provision in the 2002 farm bill to expand the promotion checkoff to imports, but the expansion was blocked due to objections that the domestic checkoff was not applied to farmers in all 50 states, only the continental 48.

NMPF again worked with Congress as it wrote last year’s farm bill to ensure that the checkoff was applied in every state, removing the potential stumbling block importers had raised about the equal treatment of all domestic and imported milk production.

Imports of dairy products have grown in the past two decades at a rate even faster than domestic production. In the past 10 years alone, the value of dairy imports sold in the U.S. has expanded from $800 million to nearly $3 billion.

Kozak also noted that 10 other farm commodities have promotion programs that apply their checkoff to imports, saying that “dairy has been a glaring exception to a common practice.

“While dairy imports enjoy a larger share of the U.S. market compared to where things stood back in 1984, importers haven’t paid a single penny to help promote the market, the way America’s dairy farmers have. It’s time that inconsistency ends,” Kozak said. “Everyone who benefits from this market should pay part of the tab.”

Kozak said NMPF will urge the USDA to quickly review the comments it receives in the coming month, and implement the import assessment soon after the comment period closes.

The Arlington, Va.-based NMPF represents more than 40,000 dairy producers through its 31 cooperatives.