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Farmers, consumers face 'dairy cliff,' politicians warn

December 13, 2012
By CHRIS MORRIS - Staff Writer (cmorris@adirondackdailyenterprise.com) , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer warned this week that a "dairy cliff" is looming if a new Farm Bill isn't passed.

Speaking during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Schumer, D-N.Y., said it's time for House Republicans to bring the Farm Bill to the floor for a vote. He said the price of dairy products could double in January if no action is taken.

"And you'd say, 'Well, that's good for our dairy producers.' It's not," Schumer said. "They would have their total markets disrupted. The number of people who would stop buying milk would be great. And they'd have an unstable market, high feed prices - so they're very much against the dairy cliff as well."

Article Photos

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer
(Enterprise file photo)

The Senate passed its version of the Farm Bill over the summer, as did the House Agriculture Committee, of which U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, is a member. Both measures passed with bipartisan support, but House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, hasn't put the House version to a vote.

Earlier this fall, Owens speculated that the election was preventing action on the Farm Bill. Now he thinks the legislation is falling victim to negotiations over the "fiscal cliff" - automatic tax increases and spending cuts that will take effect on Jan. 1, 2013, if Congress can't reach a deal before the end of the year.

Dairy farmers have been operating without the federal Milk Income Loss Contract program since Sept. 30, when the 2008 Farm Bill expired. The program provided economic stability to dairy farmers during fluctuations in the price of milk and cattle feed. The program provided $41 million in subsidies to about 5,400 upstate New York dairy farmers this year.

Owens told the Enterprise he would vote for either of the existing farm bills. The House version includes $36 billion in cuts, mostly from the federal food stamp program. The Senate version reduces the Farm Bill by about $23 billion.

If Congress doesn't act, Owens said consumers may not feel an immediate impact.

"Other than the potential for more farms to go out of business, which would mean food prices would rise," he said. "Probably that's the greatest risk. Whether you're talking milk or any other product, you're likely to see a rise in food prices unless we get a Farm Bill."

Schumer said the Farm Bill will revert to a "1940s permanent law" if the House doesn't act. He said that would wreak havoc on markets.

According to Schumer's figures, the average cost of a gallon of milk in the North Country is $3.63. He said Congress runs the risk of doubling that price if a new Farm Bill isn't in place by 2013.

"They say it's not worth crying over spilt milk, but we could soon be paying $6 a gallon, and that would make you want to weep," Schumer said.

Schumer added that higher dairy prices could drive consumers toward other products like soy or almond milk.

"The Senate bill passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority," he said. "If we put it on the House floor, it will pass overwhelmingly."

Owens didn't sound optimistic that GOP leadership would make that happen before Dec. 31.

"What I suspect will happen is that if we do not get a fiscal cliff bill put together, then I have great fear that the Farm Bill will not get acted on," he said. "It's possible that we might act on it between Christmas and New Year's. ... If it doesn't get attached to a fiscal cliff bill, it likely will not be acted on in this Congress, which would mean we'd have to go back and start the process over again in a new Congress."

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Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or cmorris@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.

 
 

 

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