Coalition proposes dairy subsidy extension

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(Host) A coalition of lawmakers, representing some of the most urban and rural parts of the state, has proposed an $8 million extension of the state’s dairy subsidy program.

The group says a number of farmers will be forced out of business if the program is not put into place this winter.

However, the head of the House Appropriations committee says she’s not sure the state can afford it.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Last summer, lawmakers supported an 8.6 million subsidy program to help farmers deal with a crisis caused by a wet growing season, high energy costs and low federal milk prices.

The goal of the program was to offer some benefits to farmers until a federal emergency disaster relief plan was approved by Congress. That program was scheduled to allocate $54 million to Vermont’s dairy farmers.

But the emergency farm bill got entangled in a bitter political fight in Washington and was never passed and the outlook for the legislation in the new Congress is uncertain.

Payments from the original state program expired at the end of the year and now a group of 46 House members is backing a plan to extend the program through this winter at a cost of an additional $8 million.

Richford Rep. Al Perry is the lead sponsor of the bill:

(Perry) “I think agriculture is fundamental to Vermont for a number of reasons. If we want a viable agricultural sector 10, 20 years from now we’ve got to make this investment right now. It won’t be there a year or two from now if we don’t make this investment.”

(Kinzel) House Agriculture chairman David Zuckerman thinks it’s critical to extend the subsidy program.

(Zuckerman) “I think for many farms it is extremely critical. The cost of feed to replace the low qualify of the low volume of feed that farmers have is really a hurdle and as farmers are deciding am I going to stick with it through this next growing season’ it’s pretty important that they have the feed to get to the next growing season and that’s where this money could really play a factor.”

(Kinzel) The group wants to pay for the program by using unallocated surplus funds from the 2007 fiscal year.

House Appropriations chairwoman Martha Heath is skeptical about the plan because she thinks the surplus funds may be needed to help provide essential services in next year’s budget.

(Health) “I think it would be a hard thing to do in the Budget Adjustment. I think if we are going to do something more than the 8 million that we’ve already done for dairy farmers that it would have to be done as part of weighing priorities as part of the ’08 budget process.”

(Kinzel) Agriculture Secretary Roger Albee says the Douglas Administration doesn’t have a specific position on the bill but he says it’s one of several options the Administration is looking at.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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