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The Steuben Courier Advocate
  • Dairy farmers in 2013 holding pattern

  • Dairy farmers in Steuben County should consider just tying a knot and hanging on in 2013, with two important measures now extended to September.

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  • Dairy farmers in Steuben County should consider just tying a knot and hanging on in 2013, with two important measures now extended to September.
    Keeping milk prices at current levels was among the issues packaged into the last-minute deal cobbled together Dec. 31 by federal leaders to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff.”
    The federal compromise that delayed any serious policy decisions also simply delayed action on a new farm bill already passed by the U.S. Senate.
    Steuben County Farm Bureau Pres. Dan Hubbard is leery of any promises – and regulations --that can change back and forth within days.
    “You’ve got to watch these guys,” Hubbard said. “They do a lot to get the public (approval).”
    While the fiscal cliff featured higher taxes and spending cuts, the milk prices would have reverted to out-of-date laws set in 1949, potentially doubling the price consumers paid for milk and milk products.
    “While the extension of the 2008 Farm Bill is far from perfect, it avoids an unnecessary burden on families, schools and farmers alike,” according to a statement by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY.
    Provisions in the 1949 law would allow farmers to sell their dairy products to the government instead of the private market, with store prices surging due to the shortage of milk sold to private companies.
    The higher price also would have opened U.S. markets wide to lower-priced foreign milk products, Hubbard said.
    Also up for renewal in September is the Milk Income Loss Contract program.
    The program assures a minimum price for milk prices, in theory covering the basic cost of operating dairy farms.
    The federal subsidy provided as much as 10 percent of annual income to more than 5,400 dairy farms in upstate New York when prices fell to record levels several years ago.
    The dairy industry is New York’s largest contributor to the agricultural economy and in 2009 generated $1.7 billion, according to the New York State Department of Agriculture.
    Bur before any significant reforms to dairy laws and prices occur, the dairy industry needs to unite, Hubbard said.
    Farmers are largely divided by geography, with the powerhouse dairy states of California and Wisconsin protecting their interests, and by size – with big dairies’ needs at odds with smaller farms, he said.
    “So really, how can you expect the government to get it right, when there’s no cohesiveness in the industry?” Hubbard said.

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