Farmers eyeing Congress during farm bill debates

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(Host) Dairy farmers are keeping an eye on Washington this summer as Congress debates a new version of the farm bill.

They say they can’t afford another year like 2006 when milk prices didn’t keep up with costs and most farmers lost money.

They’re happy the Milk Income Loss Control Program was retained in the bill, but they would have liked it to go further.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports:

(Sneyd) Federal dairy policy can be pretty arcane stuff, especially when it comes to deciding how much farmers get paid.

What’s easy to understand, though, is that farmers in Vermont lost money last year every time they went out to the barn to milk their cows.

Critics say that’s because there’s no simple provision in federal law requiring milk prices to reflect the escalating costs of things like fuel, feed and fertilizer.

Congressman Peter Welch co-sponsored an amendment to the farm bill that sought to fix that.

But he says preserving the Milk Income Loss Control” program known as MILC was the best he could do for now.

(Welch) "Our objective was first to make certain that the MILC program was in the farm bill, and then secondly to get this favorable consideration for the real cost factors that are squeezing the farmers."

(Sneyd) The farm bill requires a commission to report back to Congress within two years about how to make sure milk prices reflect production costs.

Leon Berthiaume is general manager of the St. Albans Co-op. He says he’s glad the issue of production costs is at least being discussed in Washington.

(Berthiaume) "We need to see some changes in the overall pricing mechanism if we’re going to continue to see families continue to invest and continue to look at this as a viable opportunity for future generations."

(Sneyd) Other farm groups say that’s great, but more needs to be done. Margaret Laggis represents one of those groups – Farmers Working Together.

(Laggis) "The problem is the underlying bill still doesn’t do anything to control these huge swings in price."

(Sneyd) "Farmers Working Together" wants farmers to be able to pool their money during good times. They’d get payments from that fund when prices went down, helping to protect farmers’ bottom line.

Alternative plans like that and like Welch’s proposal are likely to be considered when the Senate begins debating the farm bill next month.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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