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State Officials Worry About Future Of Dairy Industry

State officials worry about the future of Vermont’s dairy industry if Congress fails to pass a new Farm Bill.

Congress failed to pass a Farm Bill last year and there indications that it will may not act on one this year.

Last week, a plan proposed by the House Agriculture committee was rejected because of cuts to the Food Stamp program and the creation of a new dairy stabilization program.

That voluntary program allowed farmers to purchase price insurance whenever market forces pushed milk prices below the cost of production.

"What we have been witnessing is short term volatility that is impossible to manage as a dairy farmer:" -Ag Secretary Chuck Ross

It also required participating farmers to limit production in times of over supply.  Vermont Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross says the program is desperately needed.

“When you go from tight margins like we’re at right now to below water margins meaning losing money on every hundred weight you produce that is not a recipe for keeping the people in business,” said Ross.

Amanda St, Pierre is the head of Dairy Farmers Working Together – a group that played a key role drafting the dairy plan. She says farmers will lose access to a number of key credit programs if there’s no Farm Bill this year

“With the unknown and not knowing if there’s going to be funding for programs or not and how much makes the decisions they have to make that much harder,” said St. Pierre. “Are we going to continue are we going to buy more cows are we going to buy some more fertilizer what are our options and it’s really making it difficult.”

House members voted by a two to one margin to reject the supply management plan. St. Pierre was disappointed because she says it’s a critical part of the bill.

“That really ensures that farmers are going to be responsible in the production of their milk supplies and not over flood the market,” said St. Pierre. “Right now we don’t have any other choice but to increase our milk production so that we can have bigger milk checks no matter what the margins are it’s really the only way we can make more money immediately for cash flow.”

Secretary Ross says many milk processors worked against this part of the bill because they benefit when milk prices plummet:

"I think it’s fair to say that the processors through their influence in the House were able to amend the Farm Bill to knock out that stabilization component,” said Ross.

Ross says he’s working with his counterparts in other states to encourage House leaders to bring another Farm Bill to the floor for debate.

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