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Shutdown Further Delays Farm Bill

AP/ Toby Talbot
In this Nov. 22, 2010 photo, Vermont Agriculture Commissioner Chuck Ross is seen in Burlington, Vt

While news of the government shutdown dominates the headlines, one of the lesser reported stories is the impact the gridlock in Congress is having on farmers.

Back at the end of September before the shutdown began, an extension of the farm bill expired. As a result, the Milk Income Loss Contract, or MILC program also expired, and left unanswered are questions over what happens to farmers if a new farm bill—and a new MILC contract along with it--isn’t approved by the end of the year.

Vermont Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross spoke with Morning Edition host Mitch Wertlieb about the issue.

The MILC program pays farmers if the price of milk falls below a certain level, but it expired on September 30th. Ross says that isn’t a problem yet, but it could be.

“It’s a potential issue down the road and it’s going to be depends upon what happens in the marketplace,” said Ross.

But there’s also a kind of of fail-safe law for farmers in the permanent farm law from 1949. Ross says that law would cause milk prices to skyrocket, since it’s based on the 1949 marketplace.

“It is seem by Congress as kind of the threat to make sure they do something, so they don’t end up having to make those kinds of payments,” said Ross.

Ross says a major problem in passing a Farm Bill is the current political climate. He says there are issues bigger than the Farm Bill holding up progress.

“While our voice is important and I think it’s increasingly being heard, there are other forces that are at play here that are problematic.”

Ross says he and his colleagues across the country are committed to getting a Farm Bill passed, but says the government shutdown is one more obstacle in its way.

“We just hope Congress will be listening to us when they finally get the shutdown over.”

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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