Keeping Away From the 'Dairy Cliff'

By Matt Porter

December 31, 2012 Updated Jan 1, 2013 at 11:43 AM EDT

Greene, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Congress is not only in danger of going over the big "fiscal cliff," but it's also looming over the "dairy cliff."

For months, politicians have tried to pass the nation's farm bill with little success.

The farm bill is a comprehensive piece of legislation that includes managing farm subsidies, food prices, and the subsidized nutritional assistance program (SNAP), also known as food stamps.

Although there has been an agreement with agricultural committee leaders Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) on a short-term extension, the proposed extension has not come up for vote yet in the Republican controlled House.

Calling a house vote would be the first step for the extension to pass.

Farmer Mary Klecha Conroe from Greene said not passing an extension would drastically affect consumer's pockets.

"That would definitely affect the consumers," said Conroe, "They'd be paying an outrageous price for milk, and then supply and demand would change and people wouldn't buy as much dairy products."

If nothing is passed, the current dairy laws would revert back to a law first enacted in 1949.

The law would dictate that the US Department of Agriculture buy high quantities of milk at much higher prices than current market value.

Economists predict that would double or triple milk prices across the country.

Conroe said she was also displeased with Congress's last minute actions.

She said something needs to address the larger problem of artificially low prices keeping farmers in the red.

"Income over feed costs has just been below what it takes to make a gallon of milk, or 100 pounds of milk," Conroe said. "It's been a really bad year."

Bradd Vickers, president of the Chenango County Farm Bureau, said farmers were promised a full, comprehensive bill months ago.

A bill that passed the Senate, but has been stalled in the House since the summer.

"They need to come to committee and just pass the thing," Vickers said, "Like they promised way back in October. And we're still sitting here without this being passed."

But, that option has remained stuck in the House.

"We still aren't there," said Vickers, "Like the snow in New York, things are piling up in Washington DC."

Setting the stage for a deadline vote on Monday, Dec. 31.

Shoppers say a sudden increase in milk prices would be unthinkable.

"That would take a huge chunk out of our weekly budget," said Mary McGonigal from Kendall. "We drink a lot of milk a week."

"That would be horrible, it's a staple for every family's home," said Ginna Claire Mason from Nashville, Tenn.

As for Conroe on the farm, she hopes Congress can set aside its differences for the good of the country and make a deal.

"I think they need to concentrate more on taking care of Americans," she said, "and I think the farm bill takes care of Americans."

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