Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 14, 2013

Forum: Mich. dairy farmers wait for Congress

BY BOB KRAN

---- — 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.

This approach is the fiscally responsible one. Federal support kicks in only when margins are seriously squeezed. Farmers can better manage their risks through this approach, and the taxpayer’s risk is minimized by having a mechanism to trim milk production if and when it’s needed. As the auto industry has witnessed in the last five years, there’s no free lunch at the government’s expense, nor should there be.

In the Senate, Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow chairs the Agriculture Committee, and has been receptive to our plans. She worked to get the farm bill approved last year, but was blocked by a lack of resolve in the House. Strong support from the rest of Michigan’s legislators like Congressman Dan Benishek will help assure that the Dairy Security Act bill is included in the farm bill that Congress must pass later this year.

About the author: Bob Kran is a dairy farmer from Free Soil, and serves as Vice President of the Michigan Milk Producers Association.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by emailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.