Here we go again.  This is the week both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have promised rural America that they will get together in their respective chambers in Washington and work out another farm bill.  In fairness to the committees and their leaders, they did get the job done last year on a new farm bill but the House leadership under Speaker John Boehner never brought a bill to the floor so a new farm bill could be put in place.  So what’s the difference this year?  There are no looming elections this fall.

     The overall price of a new farm bill is going to be north of $900 billion over the next 10 years even though the final bill will only deal with actual farm and food policy for the next five years.  The challenge for the Congressmen and Senators is where to spend and where to save.  Food and nutrition programs will be one of the major areas of disagreement between the two bodies.  The two bodies are about $15 billion apart on the amount of cuts they are calling for to feed the needy.  The Senate wants to cut only about $4.1 billion over the next 10 years while the House bill calls for cuts of $20.5 billion.  That would just about account for the spending cuts called for in each of the bills as the Senate is looking to cut about $23 billion over 10 years while the House proposal would cut almost $40 billion over the same period for the entire bill.  Observers of the process say cuts to food and nutrition programs have to be that high in the House proposal to get the support of the right wing of the Republican party in the House.

      The debate and differences over food and nutrition programs may make the dairy title a little less acrimonious this time around.  From early reports, both the House and Senate mark ups have included most, if not all, of the Dairy Security Act being promoted by the National Milk Producers Federation(NMPF)..  That program would feature the margin insurance provision that NMPF officials tout as the future for dairy policy by providing dairy farmers with effective risk management tools and cut program costs to taxpayers.  The chairs and ranking members of both ag committees have signed off on the program and have concluded it would be the best for the dairy industry moving forward,

     Not all in the industry agree, however.  The Dairy Business Association (DBA), headquartered in Green Bay, is adamantly opposed to the Dairy Security Act because of the supply management provision included in the plan, a program known as the Dairy Market Stabilization Program  DBA officials have been lobbying Congress to oppose that plan because “it would require farmers to either discard a portion of their milk production in excess of their base or not get paid for any milk produced over and above that base.”  Other concerns include the potential to reduce farmers’ milk checks periodically and unpredictably as well as make the U.S. an inconsistent supplier of dairy products to the world market.

      So far, support for the DBA position has come from at least five members of the Wisconsin Congressional delegation, which has written a letter to the chair and ranking member of the House ag committee, asking them to reconsider their support for the supply management portion of the Dairy Security Act.  Those bipartisan letter writers are Congressmen Sean Duffy, Ron Kind, Thomas Petri, Mark Pocan and F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr.   Some DBA members who were in Washington a week ago even had an audience with House Speaker John Boehner to explain to him the problems created by a supply management program and how they are ready to support a major move away from “the outdated, anti-free market dairy policies that have been in existence for 75 years in this country.”  It would seem they found a sympathetic ear as last year during the farm bill debate, Speaker Boehner likened dairy policy in this country to an antiquated Communist type program.

    How long the committees work on their bills before they take the vote to move them to their respective floors for debate and a vote is hard to tell.  Will members be allowed to offer amendments or will leadership keep a lid on the discussion.  Third District Congressman Kind has proposals introduced to change the U.S. cotton program so we don’t pay Brazil over $147 million each year to satisfy their cotton industry because our program has been ruled trade distorting by the World Trade Organization.  He also has a proposal to put more emphasis on conservation spending and maybe tie farm payments to some type of conservation compliance by farmers.  That’s only a couple of what could add up to many amendments members of Congress want to make in any new farm bill.  But the one change we won’t see is a move to make California part of the national federal milk order system. Some things never change.