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June 13, 2013

Area farmers split on Farm Bill's merits

By Mark Boshnack Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — As the House waits to take up the Farm Bill recently passed by the Senate, a national farm organization held a conference call Wednesday to voice its concerns. On the same day, people involved on the state and local level in the industry said the bill was good for farmers.

The National Farm Family Coalition, an advocate for family farms and rural groups, had five dairy farmers from around the country talk about how the Farm Bill fails to address the concerns of dairy farmers. This was because the price farmers would be paid fails to reflect the cost of production.

The one bright spot, they said, was the amendment by Sen. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., that will result in hearings that could lead to a change in the milk pricing formula.

Arden Tewksbury, from Meshoppen, Penn., said milk prices have recently been in the range of $19.25 to $19.75 for a hundred pounds. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farmers would need an average of $24 a hundredweight to at least break even when all factors are accounted for.

This shortfall has been the reason why so many people are leaving the industry, he said. Under the new Farm Bill there is nothing “there to straighten this mess out.”

Bloomville dairy farmer Barbara Hanselman said questions about the cost of production represent an ongoing debate. Costs can vary widely depending on a number of factors, including debt and how much grain is grown. If the $26 price was guaranteed, there would be probably be overproduction by those with lower costs.

While the concerns of the farm group are are valid, “Congress is trying to meet the needs of farmers to the best of its ability,” she said, and people shouldn’t expect the government to ensure that everyone will succeed regardless of the quality of their management.

It’s a “positive thing” that there were changes made to existing farm legislation, because “current dairy policy is not working,” she said. If passed, it won’t be perfect, but the margin insurance that would replace the current dairy safety net is an important tool, she said, while praising Gillibrand for her efforts to help the situation.

State Farm Bureau public affairs manager spokesman Steve Ammerman said his organization that advocates for state farmers supported the legislation as well, including the Gillibrand amendment. The later would require the USDA to study milk pricing and hopefully find a better way.

Its margin insurance and supply management provisions provide a better system than is currently in place, he said.