“Parity,” meaning equality, uniformity or consistency, is usually thought of as a positive thing.
But when it comes to milk prices, “parity” could be a very scary thing indeed.
The term refers to a pricing scale that could go into effect if Congress fails to pass a Farm Bill by Oct. 1. Parity pricing would require 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.
So in other words, the price of milk would nearly double.
Why would such a crazy thing happen?
The short answer is, because Congress can’t get its act together.
The trouble started earlier this year when the House of Representatives attempted to break with decades of tradition by separating funding for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (also know as food stamps) from the Farm Bill, which includes premiums and subsidies for farmers.
Bloomville dairy farmer Barbara Hanselman told The Daily Star 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.”
The threat of parity pricing is seen by some as a way to essentially force those legislators to care. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has called on the Agriculture Department to begin implementing the 1940s-era dairy policies as Congress nears its Oct. 1 deadline.
If the threat of parity is what it takes to get the House to reach a reasonable compromise on the Farm Bill (which now includes SNAP funding), then so be it.
Don’t get us wrong: We have no desire to see milk prices jump to nearly double what they are now.
But we also regret the level of legislative brinksmanship that seems to be in vogue in Washington, where outrageous threats and last-minute deals seem to be the order of the day.
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.
House Speaker John Boehner has pledged to move toward a formal conference with the Senate on the bill “as soon as we can” when representatives reconvene this week.
We hope Boehner makes good on his pledge, and that both sides come to the table ready to compromise and find a solution. Our farmers deserve it, and our country needs it.