Ag Leaders Resigned to Farm Bill Extension

1/5/2013 7:00 AM
By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade Special Sections Editor

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Many agricultural leaders expressed disappointment this week that Congress had extended the 2008 Farm Bill as part of the last-minute fiscal cliff’ package rather than passing a new five-year Farm Bill. Still, they said, it was better than no Farm Bill at all.

The extension approved in the waning hours of the 112th session staves off the doubling of milk prices and reinstates farm programs such as crop insurance, and the Milk Income Loss Contract and conservation programs.

“The best that could be said about what they have done is — for crop year 2013 — farmers and ranchers will have some idea of what the rules will be,” said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, who was at the Today’s Ag unveiling Wednesday at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex.

Stallman said the downside continues to be the ongoing debate over farm policy.

“The clock started ticking as soon as the president sign(ed) the bill,” he said. “We are going to have to saddle up and work to get the best Farm Bill we can.”

The big concern Stallman foresees is keeping budget dollars in farm programs this year as Congress debates financial issues such as the debt ceiling and spending.

“There will be a challenge keeping dollars directed at the Farm Bill,” he said.

Carl Shaffer, president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, said he’s been hearing his members express frustration over the stalling that doomed the 2012 Farm Bill.

“For all practical purposes, we are at about 100 percent consumption of dairy products in this country,” Shaffer said. “Unless we do something to incentivize processors to produce something more exportable than it is now, that is going to be the answer. That is what our farmers need and want.”

Shaffer said that the dairy pricing system was not designed for an export market.

“Our producers are looking forward to reform how dairy is priced. It’s an antiquated system,” he said.

State Agriculture Secretary George Greig said his department had been in constant contact with Pennsylvania’s delegation, which did vote for the Farm Bill extension.

“This probably turned out to be the best-case scenario as far as all the options that have been available lately,” Greig said.

Alan Zepp of the Center of Dairy Excellence noted that the extension brings the MILC program back. The key part of the extension is the feed adjuster will continue to take into account changes in feed prices along with milk prices.

The final rules have not been sent out, Zepp said, so dairy farmers need to check with their local Farm Service Agency office about payment eligibility.

The Livestock Gross Margin (LGM) programs received $20 million, which includes the LGM-Dairy product. Zepp said there were some issues with the product last year, but farmers should not overlook LGM-dairy as part of their risk-management plans.

“The general policy is, producers are going to be creating their own safety net,” he said. “Granted, there were basis issues but don’t disregard these tools just because of one year’s basis issues.”

Members of the Dairy Policy Action Coalition (DPAC) welcomed the extension. They have long lobbied against the proposed supply management option with the insurance programs that had been introduced in the 2012 Farm Bill.

“The U.S. cannot balance the world dairy markets, and with growing export opportunities, U.S. dairy producers need to earn the respect and reputation of being a dependable supplier of dairy products with our global trading partners,” said Dan Brandt, a dairy producer from Annville, Pa., who is a DPAC member.

“A supply-management program would be ineffective and also sends the wrong message to our global customers that we will cut production if tight margins trigger a mandatory reduction in milk production,” Brandt said.

For more about the Farm Bill ex tension, see Page A10.

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