Ag bill favors small dairy farmers


Steve Chiotakis: A $23 billion agriculture bill could soon be on its way to President Obama's desk. Negotiators from the House and Senate have agreed to reconcile different versions of the bill -- including a bailout for dairy farmers. Reporter Joel Rose has more.

Joel Rose: The $350 million in emergency funding is supposed to help dairy farmers who are getting squeezed by high costs and low prices.

Doug DiMento: Right now, milk prices are far below the cost of producing the milk. So the more milk a farmer is producing each month, the more money he's losing.

Doug DiMento is a spokesman for Agri-Mark, a co-op that includes farmers from New England and New York. There had been some tension between big dairy farms in the west and smaller producers in the east and mid-west.

The compromise announced yesterday includes $290 million in direct aid, which favors small farmers. The bill also allocates $60 million to buy up surplus cheese, which should help all farmers by raising milk prices.

DiMento says the money is a welcome relief, but it won't solve the industry's problems.

DiMento: These are just short-term fixes, just short-term band-aids. It's gonna take a long-term look at dairy policy -- and really, the whole food policy here in the U.S.

DiMenton says the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which sets milk prices, needs to find a way of avoiding the boom and bust cycle of recent years.

I'm Joel Rose for Marketplace.

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The proposed agriculture bill is for $121 billion. Most Americans do not understand that the vast majority of the Ag budget dollars subsidizes the food stamp program (almost half the budget),then there is WIC, school lunch programs, the entire meal program for all active military branches, also federal programs including FDA, housing assistance,research, conservation, and federal inspection programs. Miscellaneous programs include international food and education assistance and disease research, domestic information systems,infrastructure, and workforce development funding. This year's bill includes funding for breast feeding peer counseling support(how does that make sense in an agriculture bill?). The $360 million proposed to help dairy farmers is a pathetic jesture. Congress is too politicized to address the heart of the farm problem, where prices paid to farmers has been virtually unchanged for decades while all other wages and prices keep rising. The 'Agricultural Spending Bill' is a gargantuan misnomer.

$350 million for the dairy companies, $900 million for the cattle companies, how much are we going to pay the carrot farming companies and the brussel sprout farmers? This is my tax money and I do not want to going to any more companies.

As much as this is an interesting tidbit, I am much more interested in how the remaining almost $23billion is set to be spent. The amount of corporate welfare involved is staggering (I believe, with no evidence) as well as how it ripples through the rest of our economy. For example: would we have Splenda without such a crazy scheme of tariffs and quotas on our sugar production? Would we have had it, just a lot earlier? I am far from a True Believer free marketeer, but there are limits to "proper" and the Ag bill tends to be loaded with them.

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