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Welch Working To Build Support For Farm Bill

A month-old red Holstein looks up from its enclosure at the 81st annual Vermont Farm Show in January in Essex Junction.
AP/Toby Talbot
A month-old red Holstein looks up from its enclosure at the 81st annual Vermont Farm Show in January in Essex Junction.

This could be a key week for the future of the 2013 Farm Bill in Congress.

The U.S. House is expected to vote on a new dairy program that’s designed to stabilize milk prices for dairy farmers.

The vote in the House is important because the U.S. Senate has already given its approval to a 5 year Farm Bill that includes the new dairy program.  House approval this week would make it very likely that the program will be part of the final legislation.

The new approach allows dairy farmers to purchase special insurance to maintain price levels whenever market forces cause prices to drop below the cost of production.

Farmers who voluntarily sign up for the program must also agree to cut production when there’s an oversupply of milk.

Congressman Welch is working with a bi-partisan group of House members to support the dairy program.

“Where you’ve got this nucleus of Republicans and Democrats who kind of get it on dairy that gives a signal to the members that this is not a partisan deal and it makes them somewhat more open to hearing arguments on the merits,” said Welch. “And that’s the way it should be ideally that’s the way it would be on every issue but regrettably it’s not.”

One of the GOP members is Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho. While Idaho is well known for its potato crop, Simpson says it’s also the third largest dairy state in the country. He says wild swings in prices are having a very negative impact on dairy farmers in his state.

“It seems like one year dairy producers are doing great and milk prices are high so everybody starts producing milk and the next year it goes through the floor and everybody’s losing money,” said Simpson. "We are trying to provide some stability and a way for dairy producers to manage their risk and that is what this whole dairy provision is all about.” “


Simpson is a former member of the House Agriculture committee and he says he’s trying to talk with individual members on a one to one basis to explain the need for this bill.

“When you talk to members on the floor about the dairy program and you talk about the dairy security act we’ve got in this bill most of them are kind of lost you know,” said Simpson. “There’s a whole education process in trying to educate people to what this dairy provision does and how it’s going to help the dairy industry I think.”

Simpson says the odds of keeping the dairy provision in the final bill are about 50-50.

This is going to be a tough one in that there are both Democrats and Republicans that are opposed to it,” said Simpson. “The Speaker of the House is opposed to this dairy provision and that makes it difficult on my side of the aisle but to me this is a good proposal and I think it will help the dairy industry tremendously.

Simpson says consideration of the Farm Bill is further complicated by the fact the House version cuts the Food Stamp program by 20 billion dollars over the next 5 years.

Rep. Welch is hoping to restore some of these cuts if the bill reaches a House Senate conference committee.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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