Dairy holds up Farm Bill; Owens blames Speaker

Dairy in the way. Photo by NRDC, courtesy USDA. Some rights reserved.

Dairy in the way. Photo by NRDC, courtesy USDA. Some rights reserved.

You didn't believe all those articles around Christmas that said the Farm Bill would be relatively smooth sailing in early January, did you?

Well, it's mid-January, and what looked like a bipartisan agreement on a new five year Farm Bill has derailed over the shape of the new dairy program. The other controversial provisions – crop insurance and subsidies, food stamps funding – are reportedly in place. But House Speaker John Boehner has jumped in to oppose government support for the dairy industry that he once called "Soviet style".

One part of the dairy program, a margin insurance program, is in both the House and the Senate versions of the bill, and is non-controversial. But a supply management system in the Senate version – which would induce farmers to reduce the milk supply through government intervention when milk prices go down – is what Boehner objects to. And he made that clear in a press conference last week, according to the Washington Post:

“I have fought off the supply management ideas for 23 years that I’ve been in Congress, and my position hasn’t changed. And Mr. Peterson and others are well aware of it,” Boehner told reporters Thursday, referring to Rep. Collin C. Peterson (Minn.), the top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee.

Boehner's opposition has drawn the ire of one of his Democratic colleagues in the House, northern New York Congressman Bill Owens, who said he's frustrated with Boehner's "unwillingness to compromise", according to a press release:

“Farmers deserve the certainty of a five-year Farm Bill,” Congressman Bill Owens said. “We have made great progress on the Farm Bill in the last few weeks because those involved have been willing to compromise. Instead of hosting press conferences and using inflammatory rhetoric, Speaker Boehner should work with members of both parties to get this done.”

Meanwhile, Politico is reporting an interesting wrinkle in the Farm Bill talks. Politico's Morning Agriculture (my favorite daily read these days) points out Republican Senator Chuck Grassley's youtube statement that warns the delays are a distraction from an attempt to kill his provision in the Farm Bill that caps the amount any farmer can receive in government payments at $250,000. It also creates a definition of a farmer, presumably to prevent things like this happening. "Unfortunately the members of Congress who are advocating for closing loopholes for food stamps are oddly also advocating to leave loopholes open for the biggest farmers," Grassley says in the not-exactly-must-see-TV video.

Two years and counting, the quest for a new federal farm policy goes on.

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