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Vilsack: 'Deeply Concerned for Dairy Industry' if Farm Bill Fails
Wisconsin Ag Connection - 09/11/2012

The nation's top farm official says Wisconsin's dairy industry has a lot at stake if the current farm bill is allowed to expire without any replacement or extension in place. In an exclusive interview with Wisconsin Ag Connection on Monday, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said his agency is encouraging producers to contact their local members of Congress to let them know the importance of having a new federal farm policy by the end of the month.

"I'm deeply concerned for our nation's farm producers, especially those in the dairy industry, if Congress fails to pass a new farm bill," Vilsack said as he speculated that the delay is likely a result of partisan politics rather than lack of time. "This legislation was approved by a bipartisan committee, so I don't understand what the hold up is. I can say with certainty, that if Speaker John Boehner were to hold a vote on the farm bill, he would get the required votes to get it passed. But the question is, why are they not holding the vote?"

Vilsack, a former governor from Iowa, says letting the farm bill expire before its September 30 expiration date means no further drought relief, no dairy safety net payments (like Milk Income Loss Contract), and no protection for specialty crops. Conservation Reserve Program extensions would also not happen, either.

"As of now, a vote on the farm bill is not on the Congressional calendar," he stressed. "We had great momentum in the farm sector in recent years with record commodity prices and strong exports and we don't want to risk losing it."

In essences, Vilsack says the USDA is urging the industry to ask their federal lawmakers to vote up or down on the bill. And he said if the House leadership blames a lack of time as the reason for not holding a vote, Vilsack says 'tell them to work on a weekend and do it then.'

Vilsack believes that House Republicans are looking to make big cuts in the budget for political purposes, which would likely include farm programs. He also told Wisconsin Ag Connection that the dairy industry has been going through a 'survival crisis' since the turn of the new century.

"We have lost about half of our dairy farms in the past decade. If something doesn't change, we'll continue to see the volatile spikes and drops in dairy pricing that has caused so much harm to our producers," he noted.

When asked about recent criticism by the International Dairy Foods Association, which claimed that Sec. Vilsack supports the Dairy Security Act, and thus adding extra fees for dairy farmers, he said he's making no apologies for his support of the DSA.

"Without a farm bill, whether it continues the MILC program or implements the proposed DSA, producers need protections," he stressed.

He also mentioned that the recently-passed farm disaster bill, which had major Republican support, does not include any milk pricing provisions and will not protect the dairy industry.

The secretary says he's looking forward to this week's rally Washington, D.C., where over 40 farm groups will be in town pushing lawmakers to take action on the farm bill.

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