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Farm bill extended to prevent high milk prices
Dairy operators in region hope for longer-term solution
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Leaders in Washington agreed late Monday to an extension through September of the 2008 farm bill, a move that could end talk of doubling milk prices.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., announced Sunday they had agreed on a last-minute extension for the farm bill that will replace dairy programs that expire at midnight today. Expiration of those dairy programs would mean higher milk prices at the grocery store within just a few weeks.

Stabenow said Monday the extension includes language keeping milk prices from potentially doubling, but excludes other provisions including energy and disaster aid for farmers. She called the extension Minority Leader “Mitch McConnell’s version of a farm bill.”

“I’m going to assume that it does pass,” said Dixie Truelove, who owns a 300-acre dairy farm with her brother, Jerry, near Clermont. “Within the next year, it’s going to be taken up again in the House and Senate committees. I had hoped they would come to some sort of compromise that does make it more of a five-year plan than continue to Band-Aid it.”

The farm bill is generally passed every five years and encompasses more than just dairy.

Included in the bill is domestic food aid, including food stamps, farm subsidies and other help for rural areas.

“There’s just a lot of different things in the farm bill,” Truelove said. “I just think it’s so hard for it to get to a vote because there are so many areas to discuss about it — it’s not just dairy.”

But with time running out on “fiscal cliff” legislation, which is a separate issue from the farm bill, some dairy farmers said the bill was something that was put on the “back burner.”

“It’s not really surprising, especially with everything going on with the ‘fiscal cliff’ and all that,” said Scott Glover, who owns Mountain Fresh Creamery in Clermont with his wife, Jennifer. “They kind of put this on the back burner and it’ll give them something to deal with over the next year instead of rushing to do something. The farm bill is pretty complex. I think when people hear farm bill, they don’t realize food stamps and stuff like that is tied along with it.”

Glover, who sells his unprocessed product locally, said a lot of farmers were expecting an extension instead of a new bill.

“This was kind of something that we figured was going to happen,” he said. “A lot of people didn’t want to see the last farm bill stay like it is, but as time got closer, we pretty well knew they were going to do something and that was the most logical thing to do was to extend the current farm bill.”

The move comes as a relief as consumers were looking at milk prices in the $7-$9 per gallon range.

“It is a (relief),” Glover said. “It’d be a tough blow to dairy farmers if they had let this thing lapse and didn’t get anything in place. We couldn’t stand that kind of an increase in milk prices.”

If an agreement, even temporary, were not reached by today, the Agriculture Act of 1949 would again become legally effective. That legislation set target prices on milk based on a formula that now is outdated. To keep prices relevant, and not only in the dairy industry, Congress must pass bills updating the formula.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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