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By Casey Wooten
House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said he is “somewhat optimistic” that an upcoming measure to fund the federal government will include some kind of aid for cotton and dairy farmers.
Farm-state lawmakers have been in talks with appropriators about including the language, which would help increase the baseline for cotton and dairy aid programs in the 2018 farm bill as well, Peterson said April 25 to a group of agriculture journalists. Changing the budget baseline for the programs would make it easier to retain the programs over the long term.
“Those are now being debated in the budget ‘cromnibus,’ or whatever they call it, and I’m somewhat optimistic that there’s going to be a fix for both dairy and cotton in that bill,” Peterson said.
The current continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government expires April 28. Lawmakers are crafting a measure that would provide funding until Sept. 30, the end of fiscal year 2017. That bill could include a combination of spending measures for individual departments and agencies, an omnibus, as well as a continuing resolution for other parts of the government. Combined, it is being called a “cromnibus.”
Both the Republican and Democratic leadership said April 25 that a final package could be finished by week’s end.
Lawmakers haven’t released specifics of the legislation, but both Peterson and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) have said they’re working with appropriators on including the language adjusting the Agriculture Department’s cotton and dairy policy.
“Whether this bill passes or not, I don’t know, but I think we have some chance of getting something in there which will give us a baseline in those areas moving forward,” Peterson said.
Outside groups are working on the language as well.
“We can’t get into the details as it’s still a work in progress, but we’re working with members of Congress to look for every legislative opportunity to improve the Dairy Margin Protection Program,” Chris Galen, senior vice president of communications at the National Milk Producers Federation, told Bloomberg BNA in an email.
The 2014 farm bill created the Agriculture Department’s dairy margin protection program (MPP), which serves as insurance for farmers in case profit margins fall below a predetermined threshold. Some farmers have criticized the program, saying that the payments aren’t calculated fairly. Participation in the program’s most comprehensive coverage options have declined since it was implemented.
Peterson singled out the dairy margin program as well, saying he would like to see the bill switch MPP payouts to a monthly basis instead of bimonthly and shift to a five-year enrollment instead of the current one-year program. Peterson also said he’d like changes that raise the “sweet spot” of MPP enrollment from about $6.50 profit per hundred pounds of dairy to about $8 profit per hundred pounds. The minimum level of coverage is $4 per hundred pounds.
Peterson said he’s advocated for the changes to Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who represents a dairy-producing state.
“I’m hearing it sounds positive,” Peterson said. “It’s only a couple hundred million dollars. It’s not a huge price tag.”
Potential changes to cotton policy are less clear, but Peterson said that he supported changes to that program as well.
Some cotton farmers have said the USDA income support program created in the 2014 farm bill, the Stacked Income Protection Plan, is inadequate and hasn’t provided the protection intended. The cotton industry has pushed for its crop to be covered in the subsidy programs offered in Title 1 of the farm bill, similar to other commodities.
Conaway, who also spoke to agriculture reporters April 25, did not offer the same optimism about cotton or dairy language in an upcoming funding bill, but said both programs should be addressed “sooner rather than later.”
“It would be terrific if we could get them both done in whatever appropriations work that we’ll be doing, but beyond that, I don’t have any inside knowledge,” Conaway said.
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