SALEM -- Without a new farm bill in place by year’s end, farmers would be left without a safety net to protect them against an unstable dairy market, and milk prices could double, forcing consumers to dig deeper into their pockets to pay for dairy products.
But Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) is optimistic a bill will pass so the country can avoid the impending “dairy cliff,” and a possible drop in demand because of the high prices he said Sunday on a visit to Washington County.
“That would be horrible for consumers, but our dairy farmers don’t like it either,” Schumer said Sunday on a visit to the Battenkill Creamery in Salem. “It hurts them with exports, it hurts them with customers.”
The 2008 Farm Bill expired in September, and on Jan. 1 would revert to 1940s-era agriculture policy, which could double milk prices.
The milk-income loss contract program, which provided dairy farmers with supplemental income to protect them against a sometimes unstable market where dairy feed prices can jump as milk prices fluctuate.
That program, which provided participating farmers with supplemental income when milk prices dipped below a certain threshold, is “very important” for dairy farmers, said Seth McEachron, co-founder and owner of the Battenkill Valley Creamery.
The bill the Senate passed would temporarily bring back that safety net program for farmers.
“The things (Schumer) mentioned are of grave concern to anyone in the dairy industry,” McEachron said. “I’m kind of optimistic, I assume something is going to be passed. I hope they get something done.”
Schumer toured the creamery and sampled some of its products before he spoke to a small group that gathered and urged the House of Representatives to pass the Farm Bill in the next week and a half.
The Senate passed the 2012 Farm Bill in June, but the bill has yet to reach the floor of the House of Representatives. If passed, it could be part of a fiscal cliff deal, or a separate deal passed alongside the fiscal cliff package, Schumer said.
Fiscal cliff negotiations seem to be improving, Schumer said. The senator’s optimism gave the few dairy farmers who were at the creamery Sunday for his visit a better feeling a deal will be place before the looming “dairy cliff.”
“The deadline is coming and to be that optimistic at this point, it’s got to be moving in the right direction,” said Hebron Supervisor Brian Campbell, who is also a dairy farmer.
Giving farmers the safety net program, which provides them with supplemental funds, can provide them with protection going forward and preserve the profitability of family farms in Washington County, he said.
Congress enacts the Farm Bill roughly every five years, which lays out the country’s food and farm policy.
Schumer wrapped up his tour of all of New York’s counties on Sunday, which was his 14th visit to Washington County as senator, he said.