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Farm bill expiration looms uncertainty for Wisconsin farmers
Wisconsin Ag Connection - 09/26/2023

The farm bill, which funds a wide range of agriculture and conservation programs, expires on September 30. However, many federal lawmakers and Wisconsin farm groups say it's unlikely a new version of the legislation will be close to being finalized this month.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan recently told Wisconsin Public Radio's "The Morning Show" that a draft of the farm bill has not been introduced in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. He said it's possible to still see something released before the end of the month, especially in the Senate. But he said he's less hopeful about its prospects in the House.

If Congress does not pass a new farm bill or an extension of the current legislation by the end of the calendar year, milk prices would dramatically increase in what's referred to as the "dairy cliff".

Chuck Nicholson, associate professor of animal and dairy science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said that's because the farm bill is actually a modification of permanent legislation from the 1930s and 40s. He said the original law had a price support program, in which the federal government has to purchase dairy products in order to increase the milk price to a certain target.

Nicholson said it's not the first time Congress has neared the "dairy cliff," but he said lawmakers are traditionally unwilling to get too close to the edge.

"The current environment is a little bit weird because we're also facing the possibility of a government shutdown," Nicholson said. "I still think it's most likely that cooler heads will prevail and we'll have some kind of extension and will work towards passing a farm bill in 2024."

He said lawmakers will likely be motivated to get the legislation resolved quickly in the new year in order to turn their attention to the 2024 election.

Some farmer groups want bigger changes to milk pricing system

Darin Von Ruden, president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, said a lack of decisions on farm bill programs like crop insurance could leave many producers feeling uncertain about how to plan for the next growing season.

Von Ruden said his organization is hoping lawmakers would consider more dramatic changes to how milk is priced in the U.S. to stop the continued decline in the number of dairy farms in the state and across the country.

Karen Gefvert, director of government affairs for the Dairy Business Association, said her organization has proposed their own changes to the milk pricing system.

The Federal Milk Marketing Order — the system responsible for pricing milk — held a hearing last month to consider an update to the milk pricing formula. But Gefvert said changes in the farm bill are needed to consider a whole new system.

It remains to be seen whether Congress will be able to pass a new farm bill before the end of the year. However, one thing is clear: the stakes are high for both farmers and consumers.

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