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Failure of the House Farm Bill


June 26, 2013

On June 20, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on the House version of the 2013 Farm Bill. It received a solid trouncing, going down in defeat, 195 to 234. Obviously, the House leadership is challenged with a House majority that defies being led and with an inability to build consensus. A dose of cluelessness, too, as both Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson, (D-MN) were convinced they had the necessary votes for passage until the vote was actually underway. Blindsided by botched vote estimates, they were dumbfounded watching the best chance for a much anticipated 2013 Farm Bill go down the pipe.

Their big question now is whether to try to rally support (if that is even possible) and recycle it, or just re-up the currently extended 2008 Farm Bill when it expires on September 30. All concerned are licking their wounds and crafting poisonous rhetoric to hurl at each other. Sadly, in the U.S. House, this is what passes as business as usual.

Before the debate, Peterson prophesied the 2013 Farm Bill would be the last of its kind. Given current realities, the 2008 bill will likely hold that dubious distinction. The urban-rural, bi-partisan coalition that scratched each others’ backs on food stamp and farm policy issues for several decades has come unraveled. For better or worse, consensus on comprehensive national farm legislation may now be out of reach in the U.S. House.

Small farm dairymen should lose little sleep over all this; the bill’s dairy provision, the Dairy Security Act, was weighted heavily in favor of large factory-style dairy operations. U.S. dairymen need a stable, fairly calculated price for their milk, not a federally subsidized dairy margin insurance boondoggle that will merely cover losses.

Dairy margin insurance schemes, served up by the National Milk Producers Federation lobbying for large dairy co-operatives, are no solution for dairy farmers. They don’t address the underlying root of the problem: a flawed USDA Milk Price Formula. The current formula relies on data collected on cheese transactions from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. There, less than 1% of total U.S. milk production sets prices for the remaining +99% in a process routinely manipulated to advantage by major milk buyers.