Dairy Policy Getting a Hard Look in Farm Bill Negotiations

Surprise! Dairy policy continues to create disagreements in farm bill deal

Published on: Jan 15, 2014

Dairy provisions are receiving a fair amount of attention this week following reports that they are causing a sizeable rift between farm bill negotiators, but Reps. Bob Goodlatte and David Scott – sponsors of a Dairy Margin Protection Plan – say the decision should already be made.

"Unfortunately the media is portraying the current dairy policy debate as a struggle solely between Speaker Boehner and Ranking Member Peterson," Rep. Scott, a Georgia Democrat, said late last week. "Nothing could be further from the truth. The overwhelming bipartisan vote count on the Goodlatte-Scott amendment, which passed 291-135 with 95 Democratic votes, was a clear and strong statement of the will of the entire House on this issue.

Surprise! Dairy policy continues to create disagreements in farm bill deal
Surprise! Dairy policy continues to create disagreements in farm bill deal

"To that end, Farm Bill conferees should honor the House vote and insist on inclusion of the Goodlatte-Scott amendment in the final conference report on the Farm Bill," he added.

The amendment eliminates the controversial Dairy Market Stabilization Program, which was included in the Senate-passed farm bill. The DMSP includes what critics have called a "supply management" element, where participating producers would be required to decrease milk production to stave off market imbalances.

Goodlatte and Scott, however, argue that the Senate's DMSP will increase milk prices and ultimately cost Americans more at the grocery store.

"This program thrusts government directly into private, commercial transactions and it will unnecessarily increase prices that families pay for products," Goodlatte and Scott wrote in a recent letter to farm bill negotiators.

In contrast, the Representatives say their plan, called the Dairy Margin Protection Plan, would be better for the majority of U.S. dairy farmers. It provides margin insurance that is not tied to a plan that requires participating farmers to idle milk production.

House Speaker John Boehner remains firmly on the Goodlatte-Scott side, quoted by the Washington Post last week as saying, "' I have fought off the supply management ideas for 23 years that I’ve been in Congress, and my position hasn’t changed. And Mr. Peterson and others are well aware of it.'"

But Peterson says dairy policy is not the current holdup. In an interview with the Red River Farm Network, said dairy policy was "'handled three weeks ago,'" adding that he, Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. and Thad Cochran, R-Miss. – three of the four principal negotiators – are all supporters of the Senate policy.

Industry groups, however, are still torn by the dairy options in the farm bill. The International Dairy Foods Association has been a strong supporter of the Goodlatte-Scott amendment, arguing that higher milk prices will hurt companies who process and export dairy products.

Meanwhile, the National Milk Producers Federation is in support of the Senate-passed policies, which they say would provide a dairy safety net and protect taxpayers from high program costs at the same time.

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