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January 30, 2014

Farm Bill's progress pleases local officials

By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — The new Farm Bill rising on the horizon in Washington, D.C., which replaces a milk pricing system with a margin insurance policy, is good news for local farmers with 200 or fewer cows, an agricultural educator said Wednesday.

“For our area, it’s quite favorable,” Mariane Kiraly, of the Delaware County Cooperative Extension, said.

The Agricultural Act of 2014 came out of a Senate and House of Representatives conference committee Monday and was passed by the House in vote Wednesday.

The Senate is poised to vote, but New York’s Democratic senators are in disagreement on approving the bill. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said she will vote against it because of cuts in public feeding programs, and Sen. Charles Schumer, while objecting to those cuts, supports the overall bill.

On Monday, House and Senate agriculture leaders announced a bipartisan agreement on a five-year farm bill that “will reduce the deficit, grow the economy and provide certainty to the 16 million Americans whose jobs depend on agriculture,’’ according to a media release.

The bill contains major reforms and includes steps to consolidate programs and cut duplication, the release said. The act also strengthens a commitment to support farmers affected by natural disasters or significant economic losses and renews support to protect land, water and other natural resources.

“This bill is good for New York and good for our country,” Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, said in a statement. Gibson said the bill includes sections he wrote in support of beginning farmers and rural broadband development.

“The bill represents a significant victory for our local farmers” Gibson, who represents District 19, said. “There are provisions that will ensure farmers have the ability to sustain and grow their operations, and we can keep our rural communities strong.”

The four-county area has more than 500 dairy farms, Kiraly said, including about 175 in Otsego, 190 in Chenango, 120 in Delaware and 50 in Schoharie counties. The milk-price payment system will continue until the new Farm Bill program goes into effect Sept. 1, she said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement Wednesday that New York has returned to its No. 3 position among milk producers nationwide was good news, Kiraly said. California is No. 1, she said, followed by Wisconsin at No. 2.

The previous Farm Bill expired in 2012 and lawmakers passed a short extension last year.

Instead of the Milk Income Loss Contract program, the new Farm Bill has a margin protection system that works like insurance, Kiraly said, and farmers decide on the level of protection to purchase.

“We have gotten rid of the antiquated Farm Bill,” Kiraly said. “What happened here is a huge compromise. I think that’s great that we have something.”

Barbara Hanselman, who has a family farm in South Kortright, Delaware County, agreed.

“As a dairy farmer, I am excited to see changes in the dairy policy,” Hanselman said Wednesday by email.  “I am a supporter of margin insurance — the world of agriculture has evolved to a global market with global influences, not just regional, state, or national weather and economy influences.”

The margin insurance program will provide a better safety net, Hanselman said, places responsibility on the producer.

“I am glad to see that our Congress has embraced the importance of compromise to get this bill executed, assuming that the Senate passes the bill that came out of committee,” Hanselman said. “The bill has a lot of cuts, and although some are critical of that, I uphold it because government has gotten too big — there needs to be more thought and responsibility in spending taxpayers’ money and improvement overall in all federal spending, including agriculture and feeding programs.”

Bradd Vickers, president of the Chenango County Farm Bureau in Norwich, said the legislation has been debated so long that farmers are grateful to have a bill. Emergency assistance in disaster situations and other safety net factors in the bill are welcomed, he said.

“There are some good things in here,” said Vickers, who has a beef and forestry products farm, said. “Just getting this thing done is a good thing. … Hopefully the Senate will pass it.”

Vickers said that the document is extensive and the impacts of some cuts and costs have yet to realized. For example, localities will have to help recipients who were helped through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the Food Stamp program, he said.

The new Farm Bill maintains assistance for families while stopping fraud and misuse in the SNAP program, the joint committee said. The bill would close a loophole used by some states to artificially inflate benefits, the release said, plus invests in pilot programs to help people secure employment.

Gillibrand opposes the bill, citing concerns about feeding the hungry and other funding issues.

“Only in Washington could a final bill that doubles the already egregious cuts to hungry families while somehow not creating any additional savings than originally proposed be called progress.” Gillibrand said in an emailed statement. “This bill will result in less food on the table for children, seniors and veterans who deserve better from this Congress while corporations continue to receive guaranteed federal handouts. I cannot vote for it on the Senate floor.”

Schumer this week said he “strongly disagrees” with the cuts being made to the SNAP program and will work to undo them. However, he urged colleagues to pass the new Farm Bill.

“Ensuring the Farm Bill’s passage is of the utmost importance to New York, because it maintains or grows scores of programs for upstate New York dairy, fruit and vegetable farmers,” Schumer said in a media release. Two of his priorities for the bill were included —the Wool Trust Fund and the Maple Tap Act, now known as the Acer Access and Development Program.

Schumer said that overall the dairy margin insurance program creates a stronger safety net for small farmers than the industry’s milk price program.

The National Milk Producers Federation, representing 32,000 dairy producers, worked with the House and Senate to develop a margin insurance program.

“The program that we have worked to develop establishes a reasonable and responsible national risk management tool that will give farmers the opportunity to insure against catastrophic economic conditions, when milk prices drop, feed prices soar, or the combination,” Jim Mulhern, NMPF president and chief executive officer, said in a statement this week.

“By limiting how much future milk production growth can be insured, the measure creates a disincentive to produce excess milk,” Mulhern said. “The mechanism used is not what we would have preferred, but it will be better than just a stand-alone margin insurance program.”

Back in the top three Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that New York surpassed Idaho to reclaim the No. 3 spot nationwide among milk-producing states. Here are the top four states ranked by monthly milk production through December 2013, according to the United States Department of Agriculture: 3.47 billion pounds -- California 2.3 billion pounds -- Wisconsin 1.13 billion pounds -- New York 1.1 billion pounds -- Idaho