Disappointment sours extension of farm bill

Milk costs steady as complete overhaul awaits new Congress


A projected doubling in national milk prices was averted on Wednesday when the House of Representatives followed the Senate’s lead and agreed to a nine-month extension of the federal farm bill.

If the bill had not been extended, federal milk subsidies would have jumped back to 1949 levels, pushing the $3.50 cost of a gallon of milk to an estimated $7. The so-called “dairy cliff” arose because House leadership never moved on a five-year farm bill that the Senate approved during the summer, which the House’s own Agriculture Committee approved too.

Conservatives balked at food-stamp funding levels in the bill and a proposal for federal limits on milk production.

While the extension of the expiring 2008 farm bill — retroactive to September — is good in the short term for dairy consumers it disappointed legislators, the Obama Administration, and farm-industry officials who worked for months on the new bill, which covered complicated matters such as commodity subsidies and price controls. With the new Congress, another one will have to be drafted.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement: “While I am relieved that the agreement reached prevents a spike in the price of dairy and other commodities, I am disappointed Congress has been unable to pass a multiyear reauthorization of the Food, Farm, and Jobs bill to give rural America the long-term certainty they need and deserve. I will continue to work with Congress to encourage passage of a reauthorized bill that includes a strong and defensible safety net for producers, expanded rural economic opportunity in the new bio-based economy, significant support for conserving our natural resources, increased commitment to important research, and support for safe and nutritious food for all Americans. I look forward to continuing the effort to get this critical work done.”

Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, said in a statement: “Once again, Congress has left rural America out in the cold. An extension represents a short-sighted, temporary fix that ultimately provides inadequate solutions that will leave our farmers and ranchers crippled by uncertainty.”

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Timothy McNulty is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.