published Sunday, December 30th, 2012

Deal reached for stopping spike in milk prices

WASHINGTON — The top leaders in both parties on the House and Senate Agriculture committees have agreed to a one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill that expired in October, a move that could head off a possible doubling of milk prices next month.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow indicated that the House could vote on the extension as early as Sunday evening, though House leaders have not yet agreed to put it on the floor. In addition to the one-year extension that has the backing of the committees, the House GOP is also considering two other extension bills — a one-month extension and an even smaller bill that would simply extend dairy policy that expires Jan. 1.

Expiration of those dairy programs could mean higher prices at the grocery store within a few weeks. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Americans face the prospect of paying $7 for a gallon of milk if the current dairy program lapsed and the government returned to a 1948 formula for calculating milk price supports.

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said Sunday afternoon that Republican leaders had not decided how they would proceed on the farm extension. Boehner has pushed back on passage of a new five-year farm bill for months, saying there were not enough votes to bring it to the House floor after the House Agriculture Committee approved it in July. The Senate passed its version of a farm bill in June.

The prospect of the higher milk prices has motivated some action. The bipartisan extension also includes disaster assistance to farmers affected by a lingering drought this year, along with extensions to other farm programs that expired in October.

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