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Clock is ticking for passage of farm bill

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Time is running out to pass the 2012 farm bill before it expires Sept. 30, but a final surge at made at the finish line by farm groups and legislators could get the job done.

An inside glimpse of what U.S. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is now doing to fight for farmers was the focus of a roundtable discussion Thursday put on by the senator’s staff at Jefferson County’s extension office. Attended by more than a dozen farmers and local agriculture experts, the lively back-and-forth dialogue shed light on the many challenges today’s farmers face: high milk and grain prices, costly regulations, and politicians who seem to care more about November election results than helping farmers get back in business after a challenging

No five-year farm bill has ever been passed during a presidential election year, however, so the odds are against farmers who want the job done soon, said Kathryn Tanner, agriculture advisor for Mrs. Gillibrand. Although the Senate passed its version of the bill was OK’d in June, House leaders have stymied a vote in its version that was passed in July by the House Agriculture Committee with a strong bipartisan vote.

Farmers “are saying, please put politics aside and vote for the farm bill,” she said, “But if I were to put a percentage on it, I think we have a 25 percent chance of getting it done in September because it’s an election year. But it could be done with enough collective action.”

The Obama administration has urged House Republican leaders to allow a vote on the bill. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, has said the bill is being blocked by leaders because Republicans couldn’t pass the bill alone and need votes from Democrats.

If it’s not passed by the end of the month, the current bill passed in 2008 would be extended. A one year continuing resolution would give Congress time to get the proposed bill passed by the fall of 2013. “If that doesn’t happen, this whole process (to draft a bill) will start over again,” Ms. Tanner said.

John W. Wagner from the New York Farm Bureau, an area field supervisor in the north country, said farmers are disconcerted by the delay to pass a bill in Congress.

“All of our farmers have a sense of urgency to be able to pass this now — not sit there are continue to kick the can down the road for another year,” he said. “Farmers want to develop their five year business plans now and take into account these changes.”

Farmers here don’t agree with all of the parts of the bill. The new margin insurance program for dairy farmers, which would replace the current Milk Income Loss Contract program, includes limits on the amount of milk dairy farmers can produce with the goal preventing a national oversupply of milk. Dairy farmers who produce more milk than planned during the year would be fined.

Mrs. Gillibrand opposes the supply management plan, which could slow down the growth of dairy plants in the Northeast. Dairy farmers have been challenged to produce more milk to supply the state’s booming Greek yogurt industry, for example, but supply program would penalize farmers who grow their cattle herds too fast.

“We have a tremendous opportunity to grow the dairy industry here, but this bill takes that away,” Ms. Tanner said. “Supply management makes sense for large farms with 60,000 cattle, but small farms aren’t contributing to the problem. Small farms that want to grow don’t want to be part of this.”

The insurance program is designed to help farmers combat low milk prices and high feed costs; it would reimburse farmers when the difference between their costs and prices exceeds a certain threshold.If the milk price drops $4 per hundredweight below the amount of farmers’ feed costs, insurance payments would kick in to help them regain some of their losses.



Lynette S. Robinson, who owns dairy farm in LaFargeville, said the managing the national milk supply by fining farmers will be a disincentive for those seeking to grow. According to Sen. Gillibrand’s office, the supply program will likely cost New York farmers an average of $2,000 to $3,000 a year.

“Governor Cuomo said at the Greek Yogurt Summit he would work with dairy farmers to produce more milk, but how can we do it with more costs?” she asked. “This so-called safety net is ludicrous, because we have to pay for what’s happening with dairy producers across the country.”

Ms. Tanner said another contentious issue that Republicans and Democrats clash on are proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as foodstamps, which normally account for 75 to 80 percent of the total funding for the bill. The amount of people on food stamps has doubled in the past 10 years, and 75 percent of some 23 million people are on foodstamps.

“Members of Congress in urban areas want safety net programs for people on welfare, but they want to cut a multitude of programs out of the bill that affect farmers” to do it, she said. “Those who want to keep funding high could prevent the bill from getting passed.”

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