Dec. 31 2012 08:18 AM

As 2012 comes to a close, the halls of Congress will look like a well-lighted dairy barn.

Late December is traditionally the time of year when Americans spend time with their families. Not so if you are a congressional staffer, an elected national official . . . or even a dairy farmer. The halls of Congress are filled with late-year hustle and bustle as national leaders try to avoid the self-created fiscal cliff. Dairy also has its own cliff.

Even President Obama has joined the discussion because on New Year's Day the 1949 Permanent Farm Bill law would go into effect. It would require USDA to begin buying dairy products at the equivalent of $38 per hundredweight. That would not be healthy for consumers or the long-term balance of the dairy industry. However, it is that threat of the 1949 Permanent Farm Bill law that is causing the late-year debate on dairy policy.

All that said, today could be the day long-term dairy policy gets passed or we may just kick the can down the road. If it has any chance, you better get on the phone and call your legislators, in both the House and Senate, to let them know your opinion on dairy legislation.

What are the current options? There are three (3) House Bills that have been filed:

1. There is a 78-page draft bill that has been posted which includes an extension of the farm bill through next September 30. Since dairy really has no national program in place, this potential legislation also includes the Dairy Security Act (DSA) with its margin protection program. This option has the support of the Agriculture Committee Chairs: Senator Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Representative Lucas (R-Okla.)

For dairy, this is basically the bill that was passed by the Senate and House Ag Committee earlier this year. As David Rogers of Politico wrote on December 30, the legislative process to pass this version has been stopped by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) as he has refused to bring it to the floor for discussion:

"The dairy issue was just one of several reasons for this stall but stood out because of Boehner's personal opposition to the changes together with his allies in the food processing industry," wrote Rogers.

2 and 3. Meanwhile, options 2 and 3 were filed by Boehner and his allies. One option extends the current farm bill for 30 days. In passing this option, the entire farm bill debate, dairy included, would start over. The other remaining option basically funds MILC (Milk Income Loss Contract) for a short period of time, albeit at much lower levels than previous payments.

Just how long will the barn lights stay on in the halls of Congress this evening? We will follow that matter throughout the day.

While not all dairy producers support option 1, we are confident to say that a supermajority of them do support the legislation. Ultimately to get movement, elected officials will need to hear from dairy producers. It will take a ground swell of support to get past House Speaker Boehner's three-month road block.