While a break in the impasse in the 2014 Farm Bill’s dairy title has emerged, a lot of details still haven't. And, the schedule remains clouded by the Congressional calendar, according to Bob Gray, editor of the Northeast Dairy Farmers Cooperatives’ NDFC Newsletter.
Even though Congress is not in session this week, House and Senate Ag Committee’s leadership hope to move forward on completing the Farm Bill by the time Congress returns on Jan. 27. The week of Jan. 27 will also be a short legislative week, since the House Republican Caucus has a retreat, Jan. 29-31.
At this point it is not clear whether or not a formal conference meeting will be held to approve the final Farm Bill provisions, Gray wrote. The chief negotiators could send around the completed Farm Bill package to the conferees and have them sign off, rather than hold an actual meeting of all 41 conferees.
The Farm Bill will also require budget scoring from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
One item has consensus: The long battle between the supporters of the full Dairy Security Act and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) over the Dairy Market Stabilization Program (DMSP) is over, according to Gray.
Late last week, the head of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) admitted a compromise was the only way to get dairy policy reform in a new federal Farm Bill. Jim Mulhern, NMPF president and CEO, said his organization would withhold support until it is assured details effectively meet the needs of the organization’s dairy producer members.
Details remain sketchy. Gray said he has heard it appears what is emerging is a margin insurance program only – similar to provisions in both the Senate and House Farm Bill versions. Policy premiums would escalate as the level of desired margin protection rises. There may be reduced insurance premiums at certain levels for dairy farmers producing 4 million pounds of milk or less per year. Market conditions could trigger a “disincentive” provision, reducing margin insurance indemnities to discourage overproduction of milk.
Rob Vandenheuvel, general manager of California's Milk Producers Council, expressed disappointment over the removal of DMSP from the dairy title, heaping criticism on Boehner.
“This is certainly a disappointing development, to say the least,” he said. “Speaker Boehner has spewed a lot of rhetoric over the past year or two about the ‘Soviet-style dairy program’ he claims we have, and how the market stabilization program would make it worse. If Speaker Boehner truly understood milk pricing, he would understand that the most socialistic feature of the California and Federal Order programs is the fact that the processors – the folks Speaker Boehner most aligns himself with – have a guaranteed opportunity for profit, regardless of whether dairy product prices are high or low. While dairy farmers live and die by the market value of dairy products like butter, nonfat dry milk, cheese and whey (which drive the value our raw milk), processors can be profitable whether the values of these products are high or low. While we’ve gotten used to Speaker Boehner’s ignorance and rhetoric, I’m not sure how many of us expected him to use his position to hold up the entire Farm Bill over a dairy-specific issue that had the support of the key negotiators. Unfortunately, that’s what happened.”
Dairy was not the only unresolved issue holding up completion of the Farm Bill, Gray said.
Other outstanding items included the “payment limit” issue regarding persons who are “actively engaged” in farming activities. This is aimed at preventing wealthy people from collecting farm program subsidies even though they are not involved directly in farming activities.
The food stamp program cuts have been set at about $9 billion over the 10-year life of the bill, he added.