WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2013 – Top farm bill conferees continued today to express optimism about getting legislation done this year, while acknowledging the very real chance this debate could roll into next year.

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said discussions have been ongoing and the “Big 4” will hold a closed-door meeting on Wednesday.

Time to finish this year is clearly running out. The Senate returns Dec. 9 and is expected to leave Dec. 20. The House returned today and is expected to leave Dec. 13.

Peterson told Agri-Pulse that Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., did not feel enough progress was made over the Thanksgiving break to call Senate conferees back this week. However, he said Stabenow and Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., are scheduled to return Tuesday.

Peterson said negotiations are still hung up on commodity title issues, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funding levels, dairy issues, and the “same old stuff.”

Peterson said another extension of the farm bill would be a leadership call. He said going into next year without a new bill would not immediately result in a “dairy cliff” issue.

If lawmakers fail to complete a new bill or an extension by the end of the year, farm policy would fall back to permanent law, which requires the federal government to buy dairy products based on a formula setting a floor price for milk that could be double the current market prices. The fear is a large increase for the price of a gallon of milk, raising it to $8.

“There’ll be stories about milk doubling in price, and that’s all baloney, ain’t going to happen,” Peterson said. “I say you’re looking at [between] four and five months before you’re looking at a significant problem in dairy.”

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said Jan. 1 is an arbitrary deadline in regards to dairy pricing.

“You should ask the secretary of agriculture how long it takes to implement,” Lucas said. “That’ll be when the first bite in the consumer’s pocket really hammers down hard.”

Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, said recent conferee conversations have been cordial, but said, “We’re not making progress.”

“The big ticket items are still being negotiated,” Conaway said. “Every day we don’t get something done, makes it more difficult.”

Conaway said there was a “dairy cliff” last year, when fears of expensive milk, among other things, pressed lawmakers to go with an extension.

“I don’t think it’s a myth, it’ll happen at some point in time,” Conaway said. “Permanent law goes into effect Jan. 1. How long it takes USDA to implement that is an open question. I don’t think it will go to $8 gallon of milk on Jan. 1, you have to ask the secretary how long it will take to implement.”


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