For farmers in Michigan like me, observing how Congress dealt with farm policy in 2012 was like watching a football game: plenty of shouting, lots of movement, a cloud of dust … and then the ball ends up in about the same place where it started. For those of us watching and waiting on the sidelines in Northwest Michigan it was frustrating.
But here we go again. Both the House and Senate Agriculture committees in Washington, D.C., are gearing up this month to tackle the farm bill once more. This time, we need them to finish the job and enact a new, five-year program. This is particularly important for dairy farmers, who need a new and better program than what we have today.
Established decades ago to provide a safety net for farmers, the dairy program simply doesn’t work anymore. It didn’t work during the 2008-2009 recession, when farm milk prices crashed as the cost of livestock feed soared. It didn’t work last year, when the same cycle repeated itself, with lower milk prices and high feed costs again causing farmers to bleed red ink.
The answer to this unfortunate vicious circle is a bipartisan plan called the Dairy Security Act. It replaces the current dairy program with a voluntary program allowing farmers to ensure adequate margins, which is the gap between what a farmer milk price and his feed costs.
The DSA is a dairy program for the 21st century. It’s an insurance program for hard times, not a handout when times are good. It’s jointly funded by government and the farmers themselves. Farmers can choose whether to participate. Those that do will be asked to help keep the costs of the insurance program down by putting the brakes on milk production temporarily when conditions are bad.