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
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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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