Farm Bill Prospects Grow With Mooovement on Dairy Program

A cow stands in a field by a factory of EL Fouladh, the Tunisian Steel Manufacturing Company which belches smokes as it produces steel billets in Menzel Bourguiba on April 8, 2011.
National Journal
Mike Magner
Jan. 16, 2014, 10:53 a.m.

Ne­go­ti­ati­ors are work­ing out a com­prom­ise on the dairy pro­gram — the biggest bar­ri­er to ac­tion on the farm bill — and a res­ol­u­tion could clear the way for Con­gress to pass the long-delayed le­gis­la­tion right after next week’s re­cess, ac­cord­ing to The Hag­strom Re­port, a lead­ing ag­ri­cul­tur­al news­let­ter.

House Ag­ri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber Col­lin Peterson, D-Minn., told The Hag­strom Re­port he be­lieves a dairy pro­gram that he can ac­cept is al­most done, and that it will pave the way for House lead­er­ship to bring the farm bill to the floor the week of Jan. 27 and be fin­ished be­fore the House ad­journs two days later for the Re­pub­lic­an re­treat.

Since Pres­id­ent Obama is sched­uled to de­liv­er the State of the Uni­on on the even­ing of Jan. 28, that likely means the vote would be on the morn­ing of Jan. 29.

Peterson stressed he has not ac­cep­ted any deal yet. “While the pro­posed concept at least ap­pears to move in the right dir­ec­tion and may be something I could re­luct­antly sup­port, without fur­ther de­tails a lot still needs to be worked out,” he told The Re­port.

House Ag­ri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee Chair­man Frank Lu­cas, R-Okla., has not yet made a state­ment on the bill’s status, but a spokes­man for House Speak­er John Boehner — who had said the bill would not come up if it in­cluded a “So­viet-style” sup­ply man­age­ment pro­gram — told The Hag­strom Re­port that Boehner “is hope­ful we have a way to move for­ward.”

Peterson said that the oth­er big re­main­ing farm-bill is­sues — rules on pay­ment lim­its and the defin­i­tion of “act­ively en­gaged” farm­ers — are “be­ing worked on,” but that he is not in­volved in those ne­go­ti­ations.

Peterson has not seen the dairy lan­guage, but said he has had “verbal com­mu­nic­a­tion” de­scrib­ing it.

“It’s not the worst thing in the world,” he said. “It’s not what I wanted. I won’t be happy, but I won’t hold the bill up over it.”

He said both Lu­cas and Sen­ate Ag­ri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., had “aban­doned” him in his quest to keep in the bill what dairy farm­ers call mar­ket sta­bil­iz­a­tion and what dairy pro­cessors call sup­ply man­age­ment, and that Ag­ri­cul­ture Sec­ret­ary Tom Vil­sack has also be­come “in­volved” in the pro­cess.

Un­der the pro­pos­al, Peterson said, the mar­gin in­sur­ance that is already in the House and Sen­ate bills would re­main ex­actly as is, but if the mar­gin between price and cost of pro­duc­tion be­comes too tight, dairy pro­du­cers would get a sig­nal not to in­crease pro­duc­tion.

That sig­nal would be either through elim­in­a­tion or re­duc­tion of pay­ments or through an in­crease in the premi­um for the mar­gin in­sur­ance, but that de­cision has not been fi­nal­ized, Peterson said. The mar­ket sta­bil­iz­a­tion/sup­ply man­age­ment pro­vi­sion would not be in the bill, he noted.

There would not be price sup­ports or an ex­ten­sion of the Milk In­come Loss Con­tract Pro­gram in the bill, he said, but there may be an in­crease in the gov­ern­ment’s abil­ity to buy milk.

Peterson said he does not know wheth­er the 41 farm-bill con­fer­ees will hold a pub­lic meet­ing, and noted that it is not leg­ally ne­ces­sary be­cause there has been one pub­lic meet­ing.

Asked what will hap­pen to oth­er pro­pos­als — re­peal­ing coun­try-of-ori­gin la­beling for red meat; re­peal­ing the law that moves cat­fish in­spec­tion from the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion to USDA; re­peal­ing USDA’s abil­ity to make cer­tain changes to the Pack­ers and Stock­yards Act; and the amend­ment sponsored by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, to for­bid states from ban­ning food sales based on pro­duc­tion meth­ods in oth­er states — Peterson shrugged his shoulders and smiled.

Peterson said when he met with Boehner, he told the speak­er: “You and I are both get­ting screwed.” Asked by The Hag­strom Re­port by who or what, Peterson said, “By the pro­cess.”

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