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Local News

October 15, 2012

Locals wince as farm bill languishes

Area dairy farmers have not yet been affected by Congress’ failure to approve a new farm bill, according to those interviewed recently. But farmers and others in the industry hope that action is taken soon to remove further uncertainty — or trigger a major increase in prices — during difficult economic times.

The farm bill is enacted every five to seven years to provide national farm and food policy. The new legislation was passed June 21 in the Senate by a bipartisan vote of 64-35, but stalled in the House of Representatives, where it was approved by committee but never came up for a general vote. The bill expired Sept. 30, taking with it the price support system for dairy farmers.

This is the first time this has happened in 60 years, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Delaware County Educator Mariane Kiraly said about the lapse.

Although area farmers got support from conservation and crop insurance programs, the biggest impact comes from the Milk Income Loss Contract’s dairy price support payments. This is triggered when milk prices paid farmers fall below the Boston Class I base price of $16.94 per hundred pounds, with an allowance for grain prices.

With milk prices at about $21 in September, and expected to stay above the trigger price in the short term, legislators have a few months to work out something, she said. While MILC has ended, that is not true of all of the provisions. It creates an “uncertain environment,” she said. “It’s hard to plan.”

What makes it more difficult is that higher than usual prices farmers pay for items such as grain have raised farm operating costs to about what they are paid for the milk, in some cases.

South Kortright dairy farmer Barbara Hanselman said that farm programs would directly receive only about 20 percent of the funds in the bill. It governs such areas as federal milk pricing and exports and imports. The rest goes to nutritional programs, such as food stamps. As farmers become a smaller part of the population, it was a way to get support for needed programs from other legislators.

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