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Leahy: Deal On Dairy Plan Should Help Small, Mid-sized Farms

The office of Sen. Patrick Leahy.
Sen. Patrick Leahy is shown here signing the House Senate conference committee report on the Farm Bill. The agreement breaks the deadlock in Congress that blocked passage of the legislation.

One of the biggest obstacles between the House and the Senate over the Farm Bill has been resolved. Sen. Patrick Leahy says the compromise should pave the way for the passage of a five-year Farm Bill by the end of the month. 

The impasse involved a new dairy program that was designed by a group of farmers in Vermont.

The voluntary program creates a price insurance system that would kick in whenever milk prices drop below the cost of production. Participants in the program would also have to agree to reduce production when there’s an over supply of milk.

But House Speaker John Boehner strongly opposed this supply management plan, referring to it as a “Soviet style dairy program.” The Farm Bill was stalled because of the deadlock between the House and the Senate.

Leahy says it was clear that another approach was needed to win the Speaker’s support. Here’s how the new compromise works. The insurance program will have a two tiered pricing system. Small dairy farms would have low premiums while larger farms would have considerably higher costs.

"Most dairy farmers have told me, give us some predictability in our prices, stop the wild swings" Senator Patrick Leahy on the need for a new dairy plan

Leahy says smaller farms should benefit from this approach. And he thinks the plan will discourage big farms from taking advantage of the insurance program.

“It’s the typical Vermont dairy farm and typical in small rural America that I think we want to maintain because they’re so integral to the rural community,” said Leahy.

Leahy says the goal of the price insurance program is to stabilize milk prices for small and medium sized farms.

“Most dairy farmers have told me when I’ve met with them throughout Vermont: 'Give us some predictability in our prices stop the wild swings,'” Leahy said.

Vermont's senior senator says he was prepared to work against the Farm Bill if these changes weren’t adopted by the House-Senate conference committee.

“Otherwise, I would have opposed the whole Farm Bill. If they hadn’t backed off and put in something that would allow the average dairy farmer in Vermont to compete then I would have blocked the Farm Bill.”

The compromise also cuts the Food Stamp program by roughly $8 billion over the next five years. The original Senate bill reduced this program by $4 billion while House leaders were seeking a $30 billion cut.

The full House is expected to vote on this plan later this week. If it passes, it will then go to the Senate for its consideration.

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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