Dairy lobbyist urges rural communities to press politicians
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
SUN VALLEY, Idaho -- While the full Senate and the House Ag Committee have passed their versions of the 2012 Farm Bill, work on the legislation is stalled, dairy lobbyist Charlie Garrison said.
Garrison, who lobbies for Idaho Dairymen's Association and other dairy groups, was on a panel discussing the farm bill at the Idaho Milk Processors Association convention in Sun Valley on Aug. 10.
"We're all frustrated with the lack of substance," he said. With President Barack Obama running for re-election against a do-nothing Congress and the House wanting to hold onto its Republican majority, nothing of importance is being discussed, he said.
Congress is not convinced it must pass a farm bill, and it will take a lot of heat from rural communities to get members moving, he said.
Dairy policy is not holding up work on the farm bill, he said.
Differences in the Senate and House ag committee farm bills are keeping things tied up. The House bill proposes to take half of its $33 billion in savings over 10 years from the food stamp program, and the Senate won't go along with that approach.
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, is not convinced there are enough votes in the House to pass the bill, he said.
The House bill also mostly resolved the concerns of cotton, rice and peanut growers over a safety net, but it's questionable whether the Senate will accept the changes, he said.
With the Sept. 30 expiration of the current farm bill and the August recess, Congress doesn't have much time to act. Congress could come back in September and extend the current farm bill 90 days, six months or a year, but it cannot be allowed to expire, he said. If it does expire, it reverts to the original farm bill, passed in 1933.
The Senate and House farm bills include margin insurance and milk supply management, the former fairly well accepted, the latter quite controversial.
"We need to have some tools dairymen can use," and Congress is big on risk management, said Mike Brown, dairy economist with Glanbia Foods.
Of farm bill dollars actually going to the farm, dairy's take doesn't even round up to 1 percent, and it's very difficult to get a dairy program that works with so many dollars working against the industry, he said.
"One thing that is painfully clear is keeping markets open and working is extremely important," he said.
The industry could live with voluntary supply management, which would be mandatory for those participating in the margin-insurance program, but Glanbia thinks there are better alternatives for fixing problems.
"What we felt was really important was deregulating manufacturing milk," but that makes exports difficult, he said.
Dairymen would be better off if the farm bill went away, and Idaho dairymen would be particularly competitive, he said.
"I think there's not a lot of good in the farm bill, even if dairy gets what it wants," he said.