ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. (AP) — The compromise farm bill that passed the U.S. House after a drawn-out battle this week is generally getting the approval of Vermont's farmers, even though it doesn't include a milk supply management provision some of them had worked on.
While seeing the provision go by the wayside was a sting, Sheldon dairy farmer Bill Rowell said the bill includes a dairy insurance program that protects farmers from big swings in feed and milk prices. It also gives small dairy farms, like many of the farms in Vermont, discounts on insurance premiums, thanks to the leadership of U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, officials said.
"Initially it was pretty hard to change the attitude of the country as far as coming up with something different than what we had. But we got there and we got the co-ops and national milk to rally behind the farmer," Rowell said Thursday at an annual dairy farmers meeting at the Vermont Farm Show. "That in itself was huge, really,"
Farmers don't have to be concerned about operating with a negative margin, said Rowell, whose farm milks 1,000 cows.
"We've transferred much of the downside risk from the farmers' back to the back of the U.S. government at their request. They didn't want a management tool but they wanted to give us a safety net, so we that and that's huge," he said.
While dairy farmer Bob Foster of Middlebury said the compromise provides much needed stability to farmers, both he and dairy farmer Beth Kennett of Rochester said they were concerned about the amount of expenditures by the government to support farm programs over the long term. They would have liked to have seen a cap on the insurance payments.
"Not having the cap could come back to hurt us in public image and unsustainability," Kennett said. "It's a compromise for now."
U.S. Rep. Peter Welch called the hard-fought compromise bill "a constructive step for Vermont dairy, Vermont agriculture and American agriculture," considering what he called an imperfect Congress.
The bill also includes some disaster insurance for small vegetable growers, like the ones who suffered crop losses in Tropical Storm Irene in Vermont in 2011 and support for organic agriculture and food and maple research and production, Welch said.
The Senate is expected to take up the bill this week.