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Congress Still Trying to Finish Farm Bill Before Christmas

December 5, 2013

The leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture committees continue to negotiate this week on a number of issues to break the impasse over the long-pending farm bill. Those differences include the final shape of an updated federal dairy program, but also range from the level of food stamp cuts, to conflicts between row crop producers in various parts of the country. 

The Senate will not formally return to Washington until next week, while the House is scheduled to adjourn for the year next Friday. Talk continues to grow about the need for a short-term extension of current policies to stave off the implementation of permanent agriculture law, and with it the dairy “cliff” of higher price support levels for milk and other commodities. NMPF continues to urge farm bill conferees to finish their work in the coming weeks so that pressure for a long-term extension of a year or more doesn’t gain any traction. Farmers can use NMPF’s Dairy GREAT system to urge Congress to support the dairy provisions in the Senate bill.

Meanwhile, NMPF last week circulated a new analysis of the House and Senate dairy plans, which showed the Senate language backed by NMPF will cost $100 million less over 10 years than the House program, which is backed by dairy processors.

The analysis, by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, was the first to directly compare the House and Senate versions of the farm bill. It put the 10-year cost of the Senate dairy program at $302 million above current programs, and the House language $418 above that so-called “baseline.”

Incoming NMPF President Jim Mulhern said the analysis, while conservative, buttressed NMPF’s point that the final dairy program needs to couple margin insurance with a market stabilization program that caps costs. That is essentially the Senate plan.

“Without the market stabilization program to both reduce the duration of low margin conditions, and reduce government outlays … the House plan would be a budget-buster—and one that we urge the conferees to reject,” Mulhern said.

Mulhern also criticized attempts to distort an earlier analysis to show that consumer prices will increase under the Senate program. The earlier analysis was done by University of Missouri agricultural economist Scott Brown.

“The purpose of market stabilization is to keep farmers’ milk prices from staying too low, for too long,” Mulhern said. “Any suggestion that it will spike retail prices to abnormally high levels is a deceitful and deliberate misinterpretation of the studies done on the impact of the (two bills).” In the Brown analysis, the average difference in farm milk prices between the two approaches was only two cents per gallon over four years, not enough to significantly impact retail prices.