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Explore our coverage of government and politics.

Vermont Dairy Groups Hope New Farm Bill Works

The U.S. House has given its final approval to a new five-year Farm Bill that includes long-awaited revisions to the national dairy program.

But some Vermont farmers say the bill does not go far enough to control the milk supply. And anti-hunger advocates are disappointed that the bill also makes cuts to the Food Stamp program.  

The legislation is a compromise between the Senate and the House over a number of key agricultural issues including dairy provisions.

Vermont’s Congressional delegation backed a plan to allow farmers to purchase price insurance that would kick in whenever milk prices dropped below the cost of production. And farmers who enrolled in the program had to agree to reduce production when there’s a milk surplus.

"So this is going to give I think some significant relief from the devastating plunge and rise in prices that has been so instrumental in driving farmers off the farm" Rep. Peter Welch

The compromise keeps the price insurance program but it doesn’t include the supply management provision. Instead, it creates a two-tiered pricing system where smaller farms would pay much lower premiums than larger farms.

Congressman Peter Welch thinks the new approach will help stabilize milk prices.

“So this is going to give, I think, some significant relief from the devastating plunge and rise in prices that has been so instrumental in driving farmers off the farm,” said Welch.

Amanda St. Pierre is the head of Dairy Farmers Working Together, a group that helped design the original price insurance program.

She wanted the mandatory supply management system. But she hopes the two-tiered approach will discourage production when there’s a surplus of milk.

“What we had wasn’t working, and I’m not sure that it could have gotten much worse, so I do have some optimism that we’re moving in the right direction,” said St. Pierre. “Obviously we would have liked to have seen it a little stronger, but that wasn’t going to happen. And we’ll wait and see if these tools they’ve given us in this tool box can make a difference.”

The bill also cuts the Food Stamp program by $8 billion over the next 10 years. The cuts will affect 16 states, including Vermont, that have links between the Food Stamp program and the low-income heating assistance program. Welch is concerned about these cuts.

The fact is we just did not in the House have the votes to protect the food stamp program fully,” said Welch. “So there are real questions that we’re going to have to face about how to mitigate the impact of some of the families that will be affected.”

John Sayles is the head of the Vermont Foodbank. He’s disappointed by these cuts.

“It doesn’t make economic sense to take people who are struggling and make them desperate. It doesn’t help them get a job,” said Sayles. “And I honestly don’t understand the philosophy or the point of view that people think we should be cutting food assistance in order to balance the budget.”

The bill now goes to the Senate and it is expected to pass by the end of the week.

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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