By House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn.
It has been nearly three years since the combination of declining milk prices and escalating input costs devastated the dairy industry. Many producers were forced out of business while others just barely managed to survive.
The dairy safety net did not work in 2009 and it won't work if similar events occur now. Current dairy programs are not keeping pace with the challenges facing today's industry. In fact, the current levels of support will actually decrease in September of next year.
I recently put forward a discussion draft of proposed dairy reforms that I believe will offer better protection, create stability and inspire growth in the dairy sector. The dairy industry can be a very diverse and divided industry, and for the first time I have seen agreement that the current system is hurting American dairy producers. We can't let this opportunity pass us by.
Releasing a discussion draft, rather than legislation, gives the dairy industry the opportunity to weigh in and perhaps offer other suggestions. The reforms outlined in the discussion draft are not written in stone and there will certainly be changes before legislation is introduced.
Working together I believe we can create a safety net that will provide the support all sectors of the industry need while also being mindful of the current budget situation.
We all know that this country is facing a budget crisis. In today's budget climate it is simply not realistic to suggest dairy program changes that cost more money than current programs. Congress has repeatedly targeted agriculture as part of efforts to reduce the federal budget deficit. Dairy, like all agriculture programs, won't be immune from future budget cutting pressures. The discussion draft's reforms provide savings and put us on the right path.
We need to act sooner, rather than later, with real solutions not just heated rhetoric. The symptoms leading up to the 2009 dairy crisis are again presenting themselves and I fear we could lose half our dairies if we have another collapse. That would be devastating not only to the entire dairy industry but also consumers in this fragile economy. With the continued uncertainty in Washington, this is our best chance to act.
Releasing the discussion draft was a first step. I look forward to building consensus. I plan to introduce bipartisan, cost-effective legislation in the coming weeks. I've appreciated the feedback from the dairy industry thus far and am hopeful that producers and processors can come together in a constructive way in the best interest of our dairy industry.
We have the best dairy producers in the world. We need to ensure that they have the backing and the safety net they need so they can continue to provide for American consumers.