‘Milk cliff’ still looms in not-so-distant future for county farmers, consumers

As the Senate and House wrangled over a last-minute fiscal cliff compromise in the late hours of 2012,  Senators Stebanow and Lucas, co-chairs of the  Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, worked to draft a 78-page Farm Bill extension proposal.

While the fiscal cliff passed both legislative bodies and was sent on to President Obama for approval Wednesday, it did so without a comprehensive Farm Bill overhaul and without the extension written by Stebanow and Lucas.

According to a press release from the National Association of Conservation Districts, the fiscal cliff legislation instead extends the terms of the 2008 Farm Bill for nine months, including direct payments to farmers. The compromise disappointed many who were hoping for a five year deal.

The bill does not renew some expiring energy and organic programs. And although the Associated Press reported that the so-called “milk cliff” had been averted by the bill, the NACD said that the new legislation did not include milk policy reform, meaning that consumers could yet again face rising diary prices in the future.

“The shortsighted extension leaves farmers and landowners without the certainty they need to plan for your future food needs as well as the resource needs of the landscape,” Gene Schmidt, president of the NACD, said in a statement.

The terms of the Farm Bill extension seem to fly in the face of the reforms many industry groups were pushing for. In June, the Associated Press reported that farm groups and politicians were largely in favor of ending direct payments, a $9.3 billion program, and instead expanding crop insurance programs. According to the Associated Press, industry insiders agreed that such an expensive program was not feasible in this time of tighter budgets and was no longer needed as many farmers were enjoying record prosperity.

The Farm Bill extension passed on Jan. 1 left out many of the budget reduction points sponsors of the 2012 Farm Bill had hammered out: “In total, the fiscal cliff bill does not address deficit reduction, whereas the 2012 Farm Bill as passed by the full Senate and the House Agriculture Committee would have saved taxpayers $23 billion and $33 billion respectively, while maintaining needed funding for important conservation programs,” Scmidt said.

In addition to conservation program funding, $850 million in disaster aid was denied for the drought-stricken West and Hurricane ravaged East Coast.

The 2012 Farm Bill was passed in the Senate last summer, but never voted on by the House. The terms of the current extension will last until Sept. 30, 2013.

Schmidt said that he hopes both legislative bodies will put the passage of a new bill at the top of their lists well before then: “Now that Congress has dealt with the “fiscal cliff,” we are urging House and Senate Leaders to make the passage of a long-term Farm Bill a top priority.”

About Hannah Sawyer

Multiplatform journalist/city reporter by day, avid sleeper by night. I go to the dog park so much that the regulars gave me a nickname -- Lois Lane. My weaknesses are Ben and Jerry's and snow.
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