Editor's Note: The following article was written by Christine Souza, Assistant Editor for the California Farm Bureau Federation's publication, AgAlert.
The new 113th Congress will be asked to complete work on a five-year farm bill, which the outgoing Congress left undone as it completed work on a "fiscal cliff" and farm bill extension package that passed on Jan. 1.
California Farm Bureau Federation policy specialists describe the package as a mixed bag for farmers and ranchers, citing treatment of the estate tax as a positive, but failure to pass a five-year farm bill as a negative.
Because Congress extended the 2008 Farm Bill through September, CFBF Federal Policy Division Manager Rayne Pegg said farm organizations now have the next several months to educate new members of Congress about programs critical to the success of the state's farmers and ranchers.
"We're starting with some new members who are going to have to get up to speed on the farm bill and its impact on California. We hope the progress that was made in the House and the Senate during 2012 is not lost in this new Congress," Pegg said. "Farm Bureau will be meeting with the committees to discuss the importance of these programs for California farmers and ranchers."
Because an agreement on a new, five-year farm bill could not be reached, the package approved by Congress, known as the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, was negotiated between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Vice President Joe Biden.
That meant that much bipartisan work on a new, multi-year bill by the chairs of the House and Senate agriculture committees was not utilized, Pegg said, adding it's uncertain whether any of the negotiated changes will end up in a bill worked out by the new Congress.
The final package extended most provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill, including the Milk Income Loss Contract program through Sept. 30 and the Dairy Product Price Support Program through Dec. 31.
But Michael Marsh, CEO of Western United Dairymen, said simply extending existing dairy programs will not help California dairy farmers. He noted that the MILC, which compensates producers when milk prices fall below a certain level, and the DPPSP, which maintains a minimum farm price for milk through government purchases of cheddar cheese, nonfat dry milk and butter, deal only with low milk prices and do not provide adequate protection for dairy farmers when they are faced with high feed costs.
What dairy farmers want, he said, is a program in the farm bill that would protect their margins. One proposal, the Dairy Security Act, offers a voluntary margin insurance program, although Marsh said the current proposal favors Midwestern dairies. The failure by Congress to pass a five-year farm bill, he said, may provide more opportunity for California dairy producers to have their voices heard.