All eyes turn to Congress as election nears
Lobbyist weighs in on possible fight
over dairy policy
at national level
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
Dairymen are watching to see if Congress will make progress on a list of pertinent issues, including the farm bill, before election-year politics consume their attention.
Washington, D.C., lobbyist Charlie Garrison, who lobbies for Idaho Dairymen's Association and other dairy groups, said Congress can pass a new farm bill or extend the current bill before it expires Sept. 30.
Passing a new bill looks difficult given the budget situation, Garrison said.
"It's a combination of general concern and how do you provide an economic safety net and environmental compliance and do that equitably," he said.
If the farm bill is allowed to expire, the country would return to legislation passed in 1949. That legislation includes parity pricing of farm commodities, which could translate into $50 a hundredweight for milk, he said.
"I see a pretty big hammer for not letting the farm bill expire," he said.
Even if the farm bill is extended, Congress still has to meet current budget numbers. The issue is how they do that without a complete rewrite of the farm bill, he said.
If it is extended, it would extend the Milk Income Loss Contract, which doesn't benefit the majority of Idaho's dairymen.
"Because of the size of herds, the price-depressing effect more than erodes any benefit of payments they get," he said.
The program subsidizes a small portion of milk when prices are low, using taxpayer dollars to mute market signals, which only extends the length of lower prices, he said.
IDA wants Congress to pass a new farm bill this year using a different safety net that would include margin insurance and supply management in times of low milk prices.
Dairymen are also anxiously watching the Environmental Protection Agency's new concentrated animal feeding operation rule, due out in July. EPA is proposing requiring CAFO owners to report certain confidential details about their operations, which states already require.
Producers contend the reporting would be a duplication and question what public benefit it would bring, he said.
Dairymen will also be keeping an eye on the future of E-Verify, which would force farmers to use an online program to verify new farm workers are legal residents. Garrison said the system is flawed, and would leave farmers without a way to replace workers who leave.
He said chances are slim the system will be mandated, although a year ago it seemed inevitable.