Agriculture officials follow Iraq war debate

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(Host) Vermont agriculture officials are closely following a debate in Congress this week over the Iraq War.

That’s because money for an important dairy program is included in a bill that funds the war effort.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) Since 2002 a federal program has served as a safety net for farmers if milk prices drop below set levels. The program is set to expire in September. But the money runs out in August.

Doug DiMento of the Agri-mark Dairy Cooperative says the program has to be funded for the final month in order for it to be included in the budget baseline for the 2007 farm bill.

(DiMento) “Right now that one-month extension is included in this Senate appropriations bill and we’re hoping that gets pushed along soon. That bill also includes language about Iraqi troop withdrawals and that’s what’s being debated right now.”

(Dillon) Milk prices for farmers are moving up, so they’re not getting the payments under the program.

But historically the wholesale milk market has sharp peaks and valleys. Agriculture secretary Roger Allbee says the program paid out about $50 million to Vermont farmers over the years.

He says the money will be needed again when prices eventually fall.

(Allbee) “So it’s a critical issue that we get this money in the Farm Bill and I know our delegation has been working on it. And the only way to do it as the delegation has been trying to do to get it part of the supplemental Iraq appropriations bill.”

(Dillon) The Farm Bill is being written in the House. Right now, the bill does not reauthorize the dairy program. Congressman Peter Welch has joined several dozen of his colleagues to ask the chairman for language that continues the program.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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