By JOE LoTEMPLIO
PLATTSBURGH — As Congress continues to wrangle over how to avoid going over the fiscal cliff, the absence of a new Farm Bill could also bring about devastating impacts.
“The ‘dairy cliff’ is fast approaching, and without a House Farm Bill before year’s end, it will be consumers and dairy producers alike that go over the edge,” U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said in a news release.
“On Jan. 1, families across Upstate New York could start to see over a 100 percent increase in the price of milk at the supermarket, all while dairy farmers would lose important assistance from the feds that helps combat an unstable market and devastating high feed prices.”
The 2008 Farm Bill expired on Sept. 30, and as a result, on Jan. 1, the nation will revert to agriculture policies from the 1940s. Those require the government to purchase non-fat dry milk, cheese and butter at prices significantly above current market rates, Schumer said.
The massive government purchase of dairy products under the outdated laws could cause milk prices to rise above $6 per gallon, according to the National Milk Producers Federation.
Sam Dyer, a Beekmantown farmer and Clinton County legislator, says high milk prices will hurt everyone.
“Nobody will buy milk because they won’t be able to afford it,” said Dyer, who milks 65 cows.
“And we are facing feed prices that are three times higher than normal. It’s scary.”
Schumer said the House needs to approve the Farm Bill that the Senate has already passed.
“It is unacceptable to have allowed the Farm Bill to expire in September. Now, time is ticking and the House must pass the Senate Farm Bill so we can all avoid crying over spilled milk.
The new bill would restore the Milk Income Loss Contract program, known by its acronym MILC, which is vital to dairy farmers, Schumer said. The program provided supplemental funding to farmers whenever the minimum monthly market price for farm milk fell below a certain level.
Under the program, which expired in September, a producer could have received federal payment that compensated up to 45 percent of the difference between the target price and market price.
The program provided as much as 10 percent of annual income to Upstate New York dairy farmers when the price of milk dropped, Schumer said.
Dyer said that losing the MILC program has had a significant effect.
“I’ve lost between $1,500 and $2,500 a month since September, and that hurts farmers my size and bigger farms,” he said.
North Country Congressman Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh), a member of the House Agriculture Committee, said he has been pressing both Democrats and Republicans for months to get a new bill.
“House leadership indicated they would do so following the election, but we still have yet to see a bill,” Owens said. “It’s clear that failure to pass a Farm Bill will cause serious harm to farmers and consumers alike. It’s time to set politics aside and get this done.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who is a member of Senate Agriculture Committee, also called for a new bill to be passed.
“For years, New York’s dairy farms have endured volatility in the market. As feed and fuel costs rise, the price of milk plummeted. When our family farms suffer, our whole state and whole economy suffer.”
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