By Mark Boshnack
The Daily Star
---- — Congress avoided a near doubling of milk prices when it passed a nine-month extension of the 2008 Farm Bill. It was part of the fiscal cliff deal Congress approved Tuesday night.
Area farmers said they were glad action was taken, but are hopeful Congress will address issues facing the dairy industry in a new bill, such as pricing and cost of production.
The previous farm bill expired Sept. 30. If no actions were taken, dairy prices would have been raised to $38 per hundred pounds of milk, according to a 1949 formula. The price is currently about $22.50 a hundredweight.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said, “I am pleased that the year-end fiscal cliff deal includes a provision to avoid the ‘dairy cliff,’ which would have meant chaos for family farmers and chaos throughout New York’s supermarkets, with the doubling of milk prices.”
Schumer had urged such action for months. While the extension is far from perfect, “it avoids an unnecessary burden on families, schools and farmers alike,” he said.
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Delaware County educator Mariane Kiraly said lawmakers “kicked the can down the road” on the issue. “The extension will bring some stability,” but she said she hoped legislators would not start over on an issue that was worked on for two years.
The threat of $8 per gallon milk — a possibility if the old formula was used — helped make sure the issue was addressed, she said. It also would have affected the price government agencies pay for nutritional programs, which are a major part of the bill.
While the extension is not what the agriculture industry wanted, Kiraly said, it was important to keep the safety net in place if milk prices drop below the ceiling price of $16.94 a hundredweight, with some allowances for cost of production. The proposed bill better addressed such issues as cost of production, she said.
Federal legislators such as Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., made the necessary effort to get a new farm bill, Kiraly said, but she was concerned that with less than 2 percent of the population working in agriculture, the “farm vote” is not there.
Garrattsville dairy farmer David Galley said the extension gives “everyone another nine months to come up with an acceptable solution.” He said he has doubts about whether all parties can agree on a pricing system. He would like to see a supply management program that could prevent overproduction when prices go up, he said.
Franklin dairy farmer Janice Smith said although she is concerned that the needs of agriculture may not be properly represented in Congress because of their numbers, “a strong agricultural economy is important to the country.”
In addition to the need for food, the industry supports a number of other jobs, she said. It’s important that the bill was extended, Smith said.
However, there are a lot of areas that need to be revisited, Smith said. This includes milk pricing, which is set by a federal agency based upon the price of cheese in the Midwest. However, in the East, a lot of the milk is used in higher priced classes, such as fluid, she said.