It was one of those watershed moments that will remain in your memory—like the discovery of the BSE cow in Washington 10 years ago and the FDA announcement that BST was approved 20 years ago.
On Jan. 16, the National Milk Producers issued a statement conceding that supply management was dead.
After four years of meetings and resolutions and all-out lobbying, one of the cornerstones of NMPF’s "Foundation for the Future" plan was dead on arrival in the U.S. House of Representatives. NMPF conceded:
"Despite the long-standing opposition to this plan from House Speaker John Boehner, we were confident we had the votes in the conference committee to defeat any amendment to strike the market stabilization program," Jim Mulhern, the new president and CEO of National Milk said in his statement.
"Unfortunately, the Speaker’s threat that he would not allow a vote on a farm bill containing the market stabilization program has effectively served to kill our proposal within the committee."
Boehner’s opposition to supply management, or market stabilization, as National Milk dubbed its plan, is well known. The Speaker of the House likened it to Soviet-style economic planning.
His opposition resulted in a 2:1 vote against the provision when the farm bill was debated in the House last summer. That alone signaled that a House-Senate conference committee report containing dairy supply management would have tough sledding once it reached the House floor for a final vote.
National Milk folks always said publicly they had the votes to pass it within the conference committee. They may have been right.
Dairy processors, on the other hand, were somewhat confident they could defeat it. But they weren’t over-confident, knowing anything can happen behind closed doors, and often does. That’s how we got the Northeast Compact—a compromise in the 1996 Farm Act vote at one minute to midnight.
And it’s hard to see the entire, $1 trillion farm bill being held up over one provision. Remember, a conference committee resolution is an up-or-down, non-amendable vote. Most Senators and Congressmen and women don’t care one wit about dairy supply management. They’re a whole lot more interested in food stamps—and even crop insurance—and that’s how they’ll calculate their vote.
By now, some two to three weeks later, depending on when this finds your mailbox, you may already know the outcome of the farm bill. At this writing, however, negotiations were on-going regarding the dairy margin insurance program.
It appears to be the cornerstone of any new policy, but it will have to be tweaked to make sure that farmers use it as the risk-management tool it is intended to be. That will mean sign-up deadlines sufficiently far out so that farmers won’t know milk and feed markets with a lot of certainty. And it means insurance premiums and indemnities should be based on true actuarial costs.
This farm bill process, the longest in history, has been one heck of a ride. Let’s hope implementation will go a whole lot smoother.
Jim Dickrell, Editor
You can contact him at email@example.com.