With Congress returning this week, the fate of the amendment introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), which added $350 million to the 2010 Senate Agriculture Appropriations Bill, remains very much in question. The U.S. House spending bill did not include similar funding, and the two bills must be combined into one conference bill by September 30.
The Sanders amendment pushed the total spending in the Senate bill to be more than the amount allowed by the Budget Resolution, so it is unclear if the final conference bill with the House will include the additional funding. Although Sanders explained that the purpose of the funds was to increase price support levels, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has considerable discretion on how to use the funds if they are ultimately provided to the department.
Conference calls over the last two weeks with the IDFA board and Economic Policy Committees confirmed that IDFA does not oppose the addition of more funds to the appropriations bill for the purpose of assisting struggling dairy farmers. IDFA does not, however, support using those funds to increase price support levels beyond those announced in late July by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Instead IDFA urges Congress to use the funds for temporary assistance that would minimize market impacts, such as direct payments.
IDFA sent letters to the Senate after the Sanders amendment passed and then restated its position to key House members by sending a similar letter to them last week.
Additional options, such as a significant purchase of cheddar cheese, are being pushed by other dairy groups. Many dairy producers, however, understand the problems that are created by further market interference, such as using the price support program which would extend the period of current low milk prices. (See "Wisconsin Farmer Says 'Marketplace Holds Answer to Dairy's Dilemma.'")
IDFA asks members to contact their Congressional representatives as soon as possible to urge them to oppose using additional dollars to increase dairy price supports.
IDFA plans to send talking points and more information to all company key contacts who are signed up under IDFA's GrassRoots Action Network for Dairy (GRAND). If you are not in this group and want to get involved, contact Ashley Burch, IDFA assistant director of political programs, at firstname.lastname@example.org.