While passage of a new farm bill is important to dairy farmers as it relates to their efforts to join the federal order, Marsh said most of the programs in the nation's farm policy also affect producers. He said farmers need surety on safety-net programs but also, for example, on conservation programs that offer cost-share incentives for air- and water-quality improvements.
But the House and the Senate still need to hammer out differences on the dairy portion of the farm bill. Key among them is a supply management program in the Senate version but not included in the House version.
Marsh and Barcellos agreed that the so-called "dairy cliff," in which U.S. farm policy would revert to a permanent law established in 1949 if a new farm bill is not passed, is not a likely scenario. That law would require the U.S. government to buy dairy products at about twice the current market rate.
"In order for that to occur, USDA would have to spend several months in rulemaking just to devise the specifications that would be necessary to buy all that product and store it for an extended period of time. And so it's just not going to happen," Marsh said.
(Ching Lee is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)