Fate Of Vermont Dairy Farms Tied Up In Fiscal Cliff Talks

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The fate of Vermont dairy farms is now caught up in the last-minute tax and budget negotiations now underway in Washington.

At midnight tonight, current farm legislation expires and the nation’s dairy programs will revert back to a law passed in 1949.

That would actually raise milk prices by 60 or 70 percent. But Vermont Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross says it would also cause havoc in the markets.

"Nobody really wants to go there at all," Ross said. "It’s kind of like the threat, the bogey man in the closet that no one wants to have happen. People are working hard to avoid it. The question is what are they going to come up with. There some things they could come up with that would be quite positive. And then there’s some that would be very inadequate."

Leaders of both parties on the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have agreed to a one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill. But House Speaker John Boehner has not said whether he will support the deal.

Ross says that means the farm legislation is tied up in ongoing negotiations aimed at averting the so-called fiscal cliff, a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts.

"It appears to be being negotiated as part of the larger package of the year-end efforts with the leadership of both the House and the Senate," he said.

One potential hurdle to including the farm bill extension in any fiscal cliff deal is the cost. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the extension could cost about $1 billion.

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