Leahy tells farm bill conferees no more delay

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Dec. 23, 2013 - Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Senate president pro tempore, recently said he expects a “comprehensive and balanced farm bill” to be concluded among conferees early in 2014.

“I look forward to returning in January and sitting down with the conference committee to work through the final details of this bill,” Leahy said Friday. “We cannot delay any longer.”

Leahy said completion of the farm bill is crucial for more than 20 programs, including the Organic Certification Cost Share Program, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Grant Program, livestock disaster, renewable energy programs, and assistance for rural small business owners who “have been stranded without updated charters.”

Lets Talk Food

While there are many sticky issues involved in the legislation, Leahy sought to assure there will not be a dramatic increase in the cost of milk at the top of next year as long as Congress completes work on the farm bill in early January.

“We will not see the negative effects of the expiration of the dairy title, and implementation of the law should go smoothly,” Leahy said. “This is a reassuring, positive signal from [Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack] that consumers and our dairy farmers will not see the spikes in the cost of milk that we had all feared last New Year's Eve.”

There has been concern that when the current farm bill extension expires at the end of the year, the triggering of permanent law from 1949 could double the price of milk.

Leahy reiterated his support for a margin insurance program for dairy in tandem with a market stabilization program, as written in the Senate version of the farm bill. “Farmers have not forgotten the dairy crisis of 2009 and they know that an insurance program alone is not enough,” Leahy said. “Without stabilization, we will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of additional dollars and virtually guarantee another dairy crisis that will put small farms out of business.”

By contrast, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said the Senate approach to dairy policy would impose production limits on dairy producers, which could lead to higher prices. Boehner has strongly opposed a dairy supply management program.

In his statement, Leahy also stressed the need to approve a long-term farm bill to provide certainty for those who rely on USDA's nutrition programs.

“I regret that far too many hungry and food insecure families across America have to wonder whether this most basic assistance will still be in place to offer support in the New Year,” Leahy said. “I have always been a strong proponent of nutrition assistance programs and the doors they open and will continue to oppose drastic and draconian cuts and damaging changes to these programs.”

The House is proposing an approximate $40 billion reduction to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, while the Senate plan would cut about $4 billion.

The top farm bill conferees reportedly have a framework for the legislation, and are expected to reveal details in early January.

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