The Senate has devolved into a cemetery filled with burial plots of pending legislation as Democrats and Republicans can only agree on one matter - to disagree. That funeral procession ended in early June when Senators voted 90 to 8 in favor of a cloture and then passed the farm bill 64 to 35 a few weeks later. As the discussion ensues, now it is time for all of us to get behind the pending legislation in the House which also includes the well-debated and widely supported Dairy Security Act.
Overall, dairy is a small blip on the farm bill radar representing four-tenths of 1 percent of the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) March 2012 baseline. For that matter, the entire safety net portion (commodity and crop insurance programs) of the 2012 Senate Farm Bill represents a mere one-third of 1 percent total projected federal spending over the next ten years. As small as the commitment is to agriculture, commodity groups must embrace the fact that the federal budget needs a substantial diet. At the moment, that amounts to an estimated $23 billion ten-year weight reduction plan.
As for our small piece of the pie, the Dairy Security Act likely represents the broadest level of consensus ever reached among dairy producers. While we all would like to make tweaks to better serve our specific needs, it offers a little of something for everyone - protection in times of low milk prices and more suitable milk flow when markets cannot absorb excess products.
A small minority of dairy producers and a somewhat larger proportion of processors have concerns about the muffler that may be occasionally placed on milk flow during periods of poor returns and excess production. Some farmers in this camp believe they can be the last man standing by being the lowest-cost producer. Meanwhile, processors want continued access to milk at the lowest possible cost.
Both groups ultimately fear any form of supply controls because they believe those measures could be expanded one day. We remain convinced this portion will not be amplified in future bills. At the same time, most of us who milk cows do not wish to be the world's milk balancing plant with producers bearing all the risk and processors reaping all the rewards.
From our perspective, we would encourage passage of the dairy portion of the farm bill as presented by the Senate. As Congress debates the merits of this legislation, it is imperative that your elected leaders hear from the majority of us who favor this critical legislation. Call, write or email today.