I was trying to be open-minded. After all, the much-ballyhooed Congressional Super Committee had just gone down in flames and the whole Farm Bill debate was back to square one.
On Dec. 22, I sat in on a phone conference called by proponents of the Federal Milk Marketing Improvement Act of 2011, who were asking everyone, including me, to take a second look at their proposal.
While listening, it became increasingly obvious to me that “this just isn’t going to fly.” Requiring processors to pay minimum prices based on the national average cost of production would essentially guarantee a profit for many farms. That, in turn, would lead to inefficiency and possible overproduction — something that would not go over very well with the general public. Most businesses in this country can only dream of having their costs covered up front.
It’s really not a matter anymore of what we in the dairy industry think; it’s what the U.S. Congress and general public think in the current political environment.
On Jan. 16, U.S. Senator Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), a senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, called the latest Farm Bill negotiations some of the most challenging — and critical — of his career. He said it will be very important to develop a new Farm Bill that is easily defensible to the broader public.
The economic difficulties faced by many Americans, along with the budget-cutting pressure on Congress, will make it difficult to pass the kind of Farm Bill we have had in the past, especially one based on direct payments as Farm Bills have been for t past 20 years.
Besides that, it may be difficult to get a Farm Bill done in an election year. Postponing it to later years will just make matters worse, since the budget-cutting pressure in Washington will only increase. Anything pushed back to 2013 is likely to be leaner and meaner.
“I think it is still possible (to get a Farm Bill passed this year), but it is a tough, tough lift,” U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, told Agri-Talk radio on Jan. 18.
In order to get a Farm Bill done this year, Lucas said farm groups will need to pull together and develop consensus. Differences between the various commodities and geographic regions will need to be worked out.
When it comes to dairy policy, the legislation with the best chance of passing is contained in the Dairy Security Act of 2011. It was sent to the Congressional Super Committee last fall by the House and Senate ag committee leadership. It is backed by the National Milk Producers Federation, which represents about 60 percent of the U.S. milk supply. It would be voluntary, so farmers can choose to participate if it fits their particular needs. And, it would cost the taxpayers less money than current federal dairy policy.
The public will sympathize with farmers having the opportunity to purchase insurance against catastrophic losses, such as those experienced in 2009. The public will understand shared risk and responsibility much more than the guarantees and direct payments that have characterized Farm Bills in the past.
Let’s get behind the Dairy Security Act of 2011.