Leahy gets behind revised farm bill
By BOB KINZEL
Vermont Public Radio | June 10,2013
Congress has not given its approval to a new farm bill for almost a year because of major differences between the House and Senate.
Sen. Patrick Leahy said the new bill includes key changes to the dairy pricing program. The plan creates a system where farmers can purchase special insurance to stabilize milk prices whenever market forces drive these prices down.
“There is no perfect dairy program, but this is going to be so much better than what they have,” said Leahy. “I think what it will help do is stop this roller-coaster prices. I mean when prices suddenly skyrocket of course that’s wonderful, but too often they go way, way, way down and you can’t plan.”
The Senate plan cuts federal agriculture spending by $23 billion over the next five years, in part by eliminating most commodity price supports and by cutting the food stamp program by $4 billion. Leahy said he’s trying to offset the impact of these nutrition cuts.
“The cuts in the nutrition programs I find painful,” said Leahy. “They are far, far less than what the Republican leadership in the House wants, so I think that we have to do this to get the bill through.”
Amanda St. Pierre owns a dairy farm in Berkshire, and her organization, Dairy Farmers Working Together, has a played a key role in the development of the dairy provisions in the bill.
She said the concept of buying price insurance is something that many farmers are familiar with since a number of them already purchase crop insurance.
“So it’s just expanding that concept into this dairy production side, and hopefully we’re not going to need it as often but it will be there if we do need it,” said St. Pierre. “Farmers have a choice. They still have a choice — they’ll have a choice even if this gets passed whether they want to participate or not to participate.”
And St. Pierre is worried about the future of dairy farming in Vermont if Congress fails to pass a farm bill this year.
“It’s really about how long can we stay in the game, and that’s not any way for an industry like ours to survive in our state,” said St. Pierre. “And it doesn’t help Vermonters. Vermonters need us to be viable and a big part of the economy, and the way this has been going, our days, I feel, continue to be numbered if we continue on the way we have been.”
Senate leaders are hoping to take final action on the farm bill by the middle of this week so the Senate can then turn its attention to immigration reform legislation.