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September 13, 2013

Delay in D.C. frustrates area farmers

Pricing law set to expire Oct. 1

By Mark Boshnack Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Could the threat of doubling the price of milk encourage federal legislators to pass a new Farm Bill? Several people involved in area farming said it might do the trick.

The Hill reported Wednesday that Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., called Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack this week suggesting that the agency begin the process of implementing 1940s-era dairy policies that are scheduled to take effect if Congress doesn’t pass a Farm Bill before Oct. 1.

Peterson saw it as a way to encourage industry groups to pressure House Speaker John Boehner and other GOP leaders into passing the legislation. The Senate approved its version of the legislation in May.

The “parity” pricing requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture to set the floor for milk at about $39 per 100 pounds. The current Boston Class 1 price is about $22 a hundredweight.

The Farm Bill not only covers the nation’s agricultural programs, including milk pricing, but funds such feeding programs as school lunches and food stamps.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Delaware County educator Mariane Kiraly said legislators have to make a decision “one way or the other.” Among its other benefits, the legislation helps make sure food is available at reasonable prices, she said, and farmers can’t plan for future production without it.

“I don’t think parity would be enacted but it’s a viable threat,” she said, adding she was hopeful it would get Congress to act.

Bloomville dairy farmer Barbara Hanselman said there needs to be a Farm Bill, and “it’s important that our role in helping feed the country is recognized.”

American farmers have done an important job for so long, she said, but “the message to me is that legislators don’t care.”

There has to be some give and take, she said, but it’s important that the agricultural and feeding programs remain connected. Without it, “I don’t think there would be enough attention to the needs of farmers,” as they are less than 2 percent of the population, she said. Most members of Congress have concerns about feeding people, she said.

Going back to parity would be a “rough road,” she said. Although it might seem like a “golden egg,” the market couldn’t sustain a doubling of the milk prices if “people can’t pay the price.”

Unadilla dairy farmer Derek Johnson said the bill is important for all types of agriculture, and without it, a lot of farmers would be at risk.

He said he doesn’t expect lawmakers will let the legislation lapse and trigger parity pricing. Before that happens, they will draft legislation to at least maintain the current pricing system.

“I’m not sure why that hasn’t already been done,” he said.