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Farmers breathe small sigh of relief

Compromise extends Farm Bill, milk price controls

— The last-minute Washington, D.C. deal to veer away from the so-called “fiscal cliff” is being met with a sigh of relief not just from stock brokers and taxpayers, but from farmers. Part of the deal to avoid automatic tax hikes and spending cuts also granted an extension to the expiring U.S. Farm Bill.

“An extension is a good option as opposed to no Farm Bill at all,” said Ballston Supervisor Patti Southworth. “Times change and legislation has to change with them. There are different issues than there was years ago.”

Some referred to the expiration of the Farm Bill as the “dairy cliff,” as it was possible milk prices could double to $7 per gallon or more.

Southworth said farmers in the Town of Ballston, where agriculture remains a driving business force, face enough challenges without having to worry about the Farm Bill.

“Local farmers are in direct competition with large corporate farms coming into the area,” she said. “They buy up products for yogurt and dairy production faster and at rates that the local little guy can’t pay.”

If the Farm Bill were to expire, agricultural rules would revert back to legislation passed in 1949, and government supports would be based on production costs from that time, plus inflation. That could potentially drive the cost of milk up to between $6 and $8 per gallon, versus the current cost of about $3.50.

The price of milk has not only a major effect on families, but on dairy farmers as well. And provisions in the Farm Bill that are now renewed protect them from fluctuations. The extension continues the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) provision, which reimburses dairy farmers when the price of milk drops below a certain level.

Dave Wood, who owns Eildon Tweed Farm in Charlton and was the former director of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Saratoga County, said that an extension is good news and bad news, depending on the size of the farm.

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