WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is once again working to pass a federal farm bill, and she "doesn't think it will cost that much."
Gillibrand announced a comprehensive plan Tuesday to help provide long-term support and certainty for New York's dairy farmers by providing a safety net for small producers, as well as improving inventory reporting and transparency. The cornerstone of Gillibrand's plan is a new, bipartisan Dairy Pricing Reform Act to reform the way the USDA sets dairy prices.
"In the next few weeks, the Senate will again be considering the farm bill. That's a bill that I have worked very hard on over the last several years, traveling around to our farming communities across the state to develop our priorities for the bill that can strengthen our agricultural industry," Gillibrand said. "Last year, the Senate did our part, and we passed the five-year farm bill. However, the Republican leadership in the House failed to pass the farm bill through the House. We were forced to debate this bill again, and we have to pass this bill once again this year."
According to Gillibrand, the bill that passed the Senate last year included many programs to help New York farmers, however none of the proposed programs became law.
"The squeeze facing our dairy farmers is driving them out of business and preventing them from growing to meet demand," Gillibrand said. "We can't afford any more delay in Congress. We need to take action now to set the environment for our dairy farmers to thrive. These common-sense proposals can give our dairy farmers the certainty and stability they need to grow their businesses, and help strengthen our state's rural economies."
According to a press release, while dairy remains New York's leading agricultural product - producing nearly 13 billion pounds for a value of $2.75 billion annually - dairy farmers are suffering from a range of setbacks. High fuel costs and severe grain and hay shortages continue to push up the cost of production, yet the price paid to farmers remains stagnant - putting a squeeze on farmers, preventing New York from maintaining its competitiveness among other dairy states and holding farms back from a growing business.
PLANS TO HELP
When the Senate returns to session next week, Gillibrand and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, will be introducing the Dairy Pricing Reform Act. The bill would force the USDA to begin the hearing process to restructure the pricing system and direct the Secretary of Agriculture to release the department's recommendations to Congress.
Additionally, Gillibrand has introduced and is leading an effort to pass the Dairy Income Fairness Act, which would give farms with 200 cows or less a guaranteed $6.50 margin, which is the cost of milk minus the cost of feed, and exempts the first 200 cows from supply management. The bill would also extend the current Milk Income Loss Contract program for nine months, pegged to inflation, while the USDA establishes a new and more sustainable program for dairy farmers.
Cold storage facilities are currently not required to report their inventories of dairy products to the USDA Natural Agricultural Statistics Service, but would be required to under Gillibrand's proposal. By only reporting inventories of dairy products on a voluntary basis, Gillibrand said it creates an environment of volatility and uncertainty for dairy trading within the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. However, she said she is unsure how much this would increase costs.
"I don't think it will cost that much, because basically we are asking for more transparency," she said. "So, right now, we are basically saying, 'You have to report your cheese price, you can't just do it voluntarily.' One of the concerns the industry has is that there is fraud in pricing and that any manipulation taking place is at the price of cheese in Chicago, they aren't receiving accurate cheese prices."
Finally, the bill would offer transparency and information for dairy farmers, according to Gillibrand. The legislation would require dairy cooperatives that engage in bloc voting to provide their member farmers with written notices when votes occur and would require each milk marketing order to establish an information clearing house to provide information regarding any proposed milk marketing order reforms. This information would be required to be published on a website and distributed to producers.
According to U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, the farm bill is a priority issue for agricultural interests in the 23rd congressional district.
"We've been working with the farm bureau and talking to especially crop growers, dairy farmers across the spectrum in regards to the need for a five-year bill," Reed said. "There has been a tremendous amount of work done in regard to the end of the year when I thought we had the opportunity to do a long-term extension, but we ended up with this Band-Aid. A lot of the issues have been worked out, and (agricultural committee) Chairman (Frank) Lucas relays to me that he is very committed to a five-year bill here by September. We are going to continue to advocate for that long-term bill."