June 29, 2013

Down on the farm, frustration's up

The failure of Congress to pass a farm bill leaves the nation's dairy farmers under a cloud of uncertainty.

By M.L. JOHNSON The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Dairy farmers worry that if the farm bill extension expires Sept. 30, milk prices could spiral to $6 a gallon, hurting consumer demand. The farm bill failed in the House mainly because of disagreement over food-stamp funding and reforms farmers say are needed to keep them in business.

Photos by The Associated Press

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Farmers fear milk and other dairy prices will rise until consumers just stop buying their products, like these seen at a co-op in Montpelier, Vt. The government now pays dairy farmers when milk prices get too low.

They and many of their neighbors are still struggling, even though milk prices have risen.

"Just last Friday, another one of my friends got rid of his cows," Roecker said. "... It's just getting to the point where you can't afford to keep going anymore."

Wisconsin farmers grow more of their own feed than those in states such as California, the nation's top milk producer. Dean Strauss, 41, who milks 1,900 cows in Sheboygan Falls, said growing 3,000 acres of feed provides some protection from high feed prices but doesn't reduce the need for a new farm bill, which would likely have better crop insurance programs.

Strauss, who described himself as a "free-market" person, was among the farmers who opposed the market stabilization program, fearing that any reduction in milk production would stifle growth in the Wisconsin cheese industry, which buys most of his milk.

Jamie Bledsoe, who has 1,300 cows in Riverdale, Calif., had similar concerns about the effect on his state's growing, international dairy exports.

"My personal view is, the government does not effectively manage anything, let alone the supply of milk," Bledsoe said.

But Kappelman said that without a way to control supply when milk prices fall too low, farmers would keep producing, the margins would stay low and the government would have to keep shelling out.

Even with disagreement over the stabilization program, farmers were united on the message they wanted to send to Congress. Failure to pass a farm bill, Bledsoe said, "leaves us in a big cloud of uncertainty."


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