Sanders, Leahy, Welch Push for Dairy Safety Net

WASHINGTON, Sept. 14 - With hopes rapidly fading for a new farm bill before the current one expires at the end of September, dairy policy leaders in the Senate and House are pushing for a temporary fix for the dairy safety net until a new dairy program included in both the Senate and House versions of the farm bill becomes law and can be put in place by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

A bipartisan letter to House and Senate leaders was signed by 60 lawmakers, including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Patrick Leahy and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.).

The Senate and House farm bills both would end the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program and replace it with a new insurance program for the nation's dairy farmers to discourage oversupply of milk.  The new approach would help break the harmful cycle of rollercoaster milk prices, when supply and demand get too far out of synch.  The new farm bill was to have been enacted by the time current farm programs expire on Sept. 30.  With only days to go until the deadline, however, the House has yet to act on its version of a new farm bill.  The Senate passed its version on June 21, with a strong bipartisan vote of 64 to 35.
 
Meanwhile, MILC program changes on Sept. 1 will result in coverage levels so low that the program is not expected to be triggered even in these times of high feed prices, leaving individual dairy farmers with no safety net. With drought-related feeds costs soaring, this new gap in coverage threatens to leave dairy producers in the lurch until a new farm bill is enacted.  

Even a clean extension of the current farm bill would still leave MILC program rates at the lower level.  According to dairy economists, this decline in the MILC feed cost adjuster would prevent the program from providing any support to the nation's dairy farmers, despite soaring feed costs caused by the nation's crippling drought.   
 
Until a new farm bill is enacted and USDA has a dairy program in place, offsets be found to maintain the MILC program at its previous coverage levels for the duration of any extension of current policy.  The legislative vehicle for this remedy could be a short-term extension of the current farm bill, or a drought disaster relief bill, or other legislation.

Senators signing the letter are:  Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Olympia Snowe (R.-Maine), Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).