Dairy policy reform could get under way as early as February, once congressional agricultural committees re-convene and take up the next Farm Bill.

Congressman Collin Peterson, ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, told Agri-Talk radio on Thursday that he and his colleagues plan to begin discussion of the Farm Bill next month and will try to get the bill done by May or June.

 “I think we’ll get a good bill out of committee in both the House and the Senate,” Peterson said. “What I’m worried about is what happens on the floor (of Congress after it leaves committee),” he says. “We could get in a situation where we get an unholy alliance between the left and the right” that could significantly change what comes out of committee, he adds.

With regard to dairy reform, Peterson has introduced the Dairy Security Act of 2011 that would provide farmers with “margin protection” against unfavorable swings in feed prices relative to milk prices.

The proposed legislation has “pretty good support across the industry,” he said, with the exception of the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA).

IDFA, which represents dairy processors, is opposed to the “dairy market stabilization” provision of Peterson’s bill that would kick in and potentially limit milk production increases when producers experience low or negative margins, such as occurred in 2009.

The Dairy Security Act would be a voluntary program. And, some changes have been made to make it more appealing to smaller-sized dairies, Peterson says.

Peterson said he thinks the Dairy Security Act is about where it needs to be. “We’re just waiting for a vehicle,” he added.

That vehicle is the Farm Bill.

Although discussions on the Farm Bill will begin soon, the whole process could drag into 2013, Peterson says. “That would be a very bad outcome, because I think things are going to be worse in 2013 than they are now, so there is no advantage to agriculture to have this delayed.”

Many observers believe the budget-cutting pressure in Washington, D.C., will simply increase in coming years.