Dairy Forum panel discusses path to farm bill consensus

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Taking a cue from IDFA President Connie Tipton’s exhortation to “get serious about finding solutions that help everyone in the supply chain,” IDFA Vice President Ruth Saunders led a lively panel discussion at Dairy Forum 2013 focusing on the outlook for the Farm Bill.

The panelists were Harry Katrichis who represents California Dairies, Inc. at The Advocacy Group, a lobbying firm in Washington, DC; Jackie Klippenstein, vice president for industry and legislative affairs for Dairy Farmers of America; and Tyson Redpath, senior vice president of government affairs with the Russell Group. Saunders posed a variety of questions, including several submitted by the session's audience of more than 300 attendees.

'Nothing Is Automatic in the House'

The panel moved from a broad discussion about the politics around the Farm Bill impasse and the recent “dairy cliff” to specifics about the Dairy Security Act. When asked how Congress will approach the Farm Bill this year, Redpath, a former staffer for House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) answered, “The process in the House of Representatives is fraught with peril. Nothing is automatic in the House.”

He later added, “You are not going to sign a five-year lease on the Farm Bill until we have a budget.”

Katrichis noted, “There wasn't one hearing on dairy policy in the Senate of the 112th Congress. There need to be more hearings.”

The group also discussed the changing dynamics of the Agriculture Committees in the House and the Senate, as well as the likelihood of their continued support of the Dairy Security Act.

“The DSA is a product of compromise,” Klippenstein reminded the panel. “It was mandatory at one time; now it is voluntary.”

In response, Katrichis said, “The DSA is voluntary in name only because, if you want margin insurance, you must take the supply management.”

Klippenstein parried back, saying, “The term supply management has a 1980s look to it. Folks need to rethink that term.”

Moving Forward on Areas of Consensus

Saunders asked the group if it was possible to move forward on the areas where the dairy industry is not divided, including fundamental support for getting rid of the Milk Income Loss Contract program (MILC), the Dairy Product Price Support Program (DPPSP) and the Dairy Export Incentive Program (DEIP) and consensus on margin insurance protection for dairy farmers. She wondered if “we have forgotten that we agree on these significant reforms in the Dairy Security Act because we are so caught up fighting about the stabilization program?”

Redpath said federal dairy legislation always leads to more. “That is why many fear the stabilization program. No matter what you call it, supply management or a 'production disincentive' program simply allows more government interference in the dairy marketplace that is already highly regulated,” he added.

The panelists agreed that the Farm Bill would not likely include any changes to the existing Federal Milk Marketing Order program.

Redpath noted that he grew up in a dairy family, to which Klippenstein retorted, “I cannot believe you played the dairy farmer card,” getting a hearty laugh from the audience.

Klippenstein pressed a pro-DSA position, saying, “We need producers. Ending up with three producers in some states supplying milk will not be good for this industry.”

She pointed out that dairy should not be looking for the same treatment in the Farm Bill as other commodities. “Dairy is uniquely different and should not be treated like other commodities. We don't get to store our commodity,” said Klippenstein.

Saunders closed the session by reiterating the many areas of dairy industry consensus and saying she hoped the discussion would be a first step in moving forward towards meaningful dairy policy reform instead of another “dairy cliff” stalemate.

For more information, contact Saunders at rsaunders@idfa.org.



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