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Area dairy farmers left in lurch after farm bill expires

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Dairy cows are milked Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012 at the Jerry Siemers dairy farm west of Cape Girardeau.
(Fred Lynch)
A program benefiting local dairy farmers is among the 34 U.S. Department of Agriculture Programs that are now expired since Congress adjourned without passing a new five-year farm bill.

For the first time in more than 20 years a farm bill was allowed to expire with the end of the federal fiscal year, Sept. 30, without Congress passing some sort of an extension, said Mark Cadle, executive director for the Missouri Farm Service Agency.

Designed to offset low wholesale milk prices during times of high input costs, the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program is used by most dairy farmers in Southeast Missouri.

John Schoen, whose family has been in the dairy business near Oak Ridge since the early 1900s, says it would take him at least $21 to $23 per 100 gallons to break even -- he's getting $16 to $17. The MILC program pays dairy farmers 45 percent of the difference between the target price and the actual price. But beginning Sept. 1, that was cut to 34 percent as the program's end drew near.

This summer's drought forced him to bring in hay all the way from South Dakota. The price of feed has gone up anywhere from 35 percent to 70 percent, depending on the type, Schoen said.

"The price [of milk] has not really changed but maybe 5 to 7 percent over the last 90 to 120 days," he said. "Our cost of production right now is probably at the highest level that has probably ever been recorded."

Schoen's dairy operation supports four families and a handful of other employees, but they've struggled this summer.

Dairy farmers are trying to cut costs by selling off the least productive out of their herd to be slaughtered, Schoen said.

"If we can't make money on a cow, she has outlived her usefulness and we have to remove her from the herd and take her to the auction barn," Schoen said. Some small dairy farms are considering getting out of the business altogether.

While feed prices are skyrocketing and it's been difficult to find hay even from other states, army worms are also adding to dairy farmers' financial misery.

The worms strip the grasses that are trying to grow in pastures, requiring farmers to spray costly chemicals to try to control them, Schoen said.

He estimated most local family dairy farms are losing $10,000 to $15,000 per month right now.

"They are in the red that much," he said. Most are relying on loans to get them through for now, but that can't continue.

They'll lose even more now that the MILC payments are ending.

"The authority for that program has ended entirely. It expired with the [2008] farm bill," Cadle said. "We will make payments for the month of September, but after those payments go out, until the issue is addressed with a new farm bill there won't be payments going out."

Schoen feels like his farm, and others like it, are caught in the middle of a power struggle between Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C.

"At this point, it's a political ploy and farming and agriculture are a very, very small part of the farm bill," Schoen said. "We get the attention, but it's the other parts of it, including feeding the poor, that are going to be hurt out of this deal too."

About 80 percent of the multibillion-dollar farm bill is spent on nutrition assistance programs including the program formerly known as food stamps. The programs, however, will continue for now.

Payments for existing Conservation Reserve Program contracts but no new contracts will be approved.

"That would include even the most environmentally sensitive lands such as filter strips along the banks of rivers of streams. We generally have a continuous sign-up for those and that authority has expired as well," Cadle said.

Farmers in this voluntary program receive annual rental payments and cost-share assistance for planting natural resource conserving ground covers on eligible farmland, instead of using it to grow crops. The Wetlands and Grasslands Reserve Programs also expired.

Several horticulture and organic agriculture programs were among the 30-plus programs now without program authority or funding.

Funding for trade and export promotion programs, biofuels and energy programs have expired as well.

Several farm bill programs expired at the end of last year due to budgetary issues including disaster assistance programs for livestock producers, farm-raised fish and honeybees.

A humanitarian trust program named for former Cape Girardeau representative Bill Emerson has also expired.

"In particular, it demonstrates the close connections between our farmers, our food, and the millions of people who contend with hunger around the world every day," Rep. Jo Ann Emerson said of the fund named for her late husband who she replaced. "Our producers in southern Missouri take seriously their obligation to contribute to a solution to hunger, and the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust helps them attain that goal."

She said it was irresponsible of the House not to give the farm bill the consideration it deserved before adjourning. The U.S. Senate passed its version of the farm bill earlier this summer.

"This ought to be an urgent priority for leaders of both parties in both the House and the Senate, because the stakes for ag regions of the country are extremely high. Many livelihoods in southern Missouri and around the country depend on farm bill policies," she said. "I understand that, and the members of the agriculture committee understand that, but there are many members of Congress who are disconnected from ag policy."

Agriculture supports one in 12 American jobs, Cadle said.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said the House should have to answer for why they've put partisan ideology above the jobs and livelihoods of Missourians.

"Anybody in touch with what's going on in Missouri this year knows how badly our farmers, ranchers, and rural families and businesses need certainty -- which is why I successfully fought to pass the farm bill in the Senate, and why the refusal to act in the U.S. House is so unacceptable," she said in an emailed statement.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said in a statement, "I voted for the Senate version of the farm bill and I've repeatedly called on Congress to pass a long-term farm bill to give farm families much-needed economic certainty. In the meantime, I'll continue to work with USDA to make things run as smoothly as possible until Congress passes a bill."



Pertinent address:

Oak Ridge, MO

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Does the small businessperson get subsidies like the farmers do?

-- Posted by tobedetermined on Mon, Oct 1, 2012, at 8:31 PM

Can I get government kick backs for living in town? Why do farmers expect to always get help from the government. Last year too much rain and this year not enough. Always complaining yet they drive $50000 pickups and $200K farm equipment! Buy used stuff to cut down costs or sell that land so Cape can have another subdivision.

-- Posted by Bman69 on Tue, Oct 2, 2012, at 5:58 AM

Right on!!! I can't wait for that $10 a gallon milk.

-- Posted by FreedomFadingFast on Tue, Oct 2, 2012, at 6:23 AM

Some of you need to give farming a try if you think it's so easy. After all, all farmers have to do is sit and wait for their government payment, right? I doubt you would last six months at the job. And if farmers weren't buying equipment (new or used), the implement dealers and manufacturers would be in trouble. Unfortunately, "town people" have no idea the impact that agriculture has on our economy. And I hope you're smiling when you pay for that $10 a gallon milk.

-- Posted by countryfolk on Tue, Oct 2, 2012, at 8:28 AM

all you folks that hate farmers so much need to stop consuming anything produced by a farmer... try that out for awhile and see how ya like it

-- Posted by TommyStix on Tue, Oct 2, 2012, at 10:07 AM

Farming is real work, the work force now is this country is not use to working that hard sunrise to sunset everyday of the week, it would kill them!

-- Posted by ecfd3977 on Tue, Oct 2, 2012, at 10:52 AM


Have you seen the prices of used farm equipment? You are still looking at the $200K price range. Watch where you put your mouth because it will come back and bite you when you are paying $400% more for food at the store. You want to make some cuts...let's look into making welfare and food stamps a little stricter.

-- Posted by Sem0gal on Tue, Oct 2, 2012, at 11:49 AM

Grewat, maybe we can "outsource" this to China too!

-- Posted by MINT4U on Tue, Oct 2, 2012, at 12:43 PM

when you are paying $400% more for food at the store. You want to make some cuts...let's look into making welfare and food stamps a little stricter.

-- Posted by Sem0gal on Tue, Oct 2, 2012, at 11:49 AM

The only change in food stamps will be to increase them in order to cover to 400% increase in food.

-- Posted by FreedomFadingFast on Tue, Oct 2, 2012, at 12:57 PM

Unfortunately the way things are going, that is true, it won't help our situation though. There are a lot of people out there that genuinely need the help, however there are also so many that are simply lazy and draining our system to the point were cuts like these are made. It is really sad. The question boils down to "Who really deserves the money? People who work hard for what they have (no matter how poor or rich they are) or the people who refuse to work and would rather everything just be handed to them?" I know I would rather give my money to people who are at least trying to help themselves. And please note: This is not an attack to people on welfare, because the system is definitely a necessity. However, it is WAY too relaxed and I believe it does not target the right people at all.

-- Posted by Sem0gal on Tue, Oct 2, 2012, at 1:14 PM

Posted by Sem0gal on Tue, Oct 2, 2012, at 1:14 PM

You make too much sense. Sense and gov't clash.

-- Posted by FreedomFadingFast on Tue, Oct 2, 2012, at 1:40 PM

Whats the big difference between paying $10 for a gallon of milk vs paying $3 and being indirectly taxed to pay for that other $7? If a gallon of milk truly costs $10 to produce then its price in stores should reflect that so that consumers can decide whether the cost vs the benefit is worth it. I cannot opt out of paying taxes that pay for subsidies, I can easily opt out of buying a good if it does not provide enough value for the cost.

Besides lets say $10 milk leads to consumers eating half as many dairy products. What is the harm? Nobody in the US will starve, and in fact most people would be a tiny bit healthier.

-- Posted by Nil on Tue, Oct 2, 2012, at 3:08 PM

All businesses: farmers, Noranda, Nars, Nordeniz, P&G included need to learn to stand on their own feet or get the heck out of the business.

How can you complain about individual welfare and not see how subsidies are corporate welfare on a much bigger scale?

-- Posted by whom on Tue, Oct 2, 2012, at 3:22 PM

I can complain about it because those are the types of companies who are driving our economy and they are working hard for what they earn. Going back to what I said earlier. I would way rather give my money to someone who is willing to work hard for what they want AND need, whether it be an individual or a company.

-- Posted by Sem0gal on Tue, Oct 2, 2012, at 3:42 PM

I won't speak for Noranda, Nars, Nordenia and P&G, but considering the fact that agriculture supports 1 in 12 American jobs (as stated in this article), think what would happen in Southeast Missouri if all the area farmers got "the heck out of the business". Implement dealers would downsize or even go out of business. Businesses that sell seed, fertilizer, chemicals, fuel, and feed (ie. CO-OP, MFA, etc.) would be in trouble. The Farm Service Agency and farm lending companies would be in trouble. Then there are other businesses like grain bin contractors, grain elevators, livestock auction barns, dairy equipment suppliers, etc. that would no longer be needed.

And if you think that farmers don't contribute that much to the area economy, our small operation pumped over $250,000 back into the community in seed/fertilizer/chemicals, fuel, and equipment maintenance alone. That amount doesn't include all the other expenses that go along with farming.

Again, anyone who thinks that all farmers do is sit around waiting for their next government check really needs to buy a farm and give it a try.

-- Posted by countryfolk on Tue, Oct 2, 2012, at 6:12 PM

I guess I got flagged for using a "bad" word, since my earlier post is gone.

At least I didn't get banned. :)

Let me restate:

People from the city have absolutely NO idea what it's like to try to farm for a living.

The government is trying it's best to push us off the land.

The less than 2% who grow this nation's food deserve fair parity for their products.

What you see in the grocery store is not a fair price because of the hijacking monopolies.

Don't bite the hand that feeds you.

Pretty soon, the only way you will be able to buy good healthy food will be the black market. All that you will be able to get is GMO poison from China. In fact that's what you have here in America now. That's why there is so much cancer.

-- Posted by dchannes on Tue, Oct 2, 2012, at 9:25 PM

Something people don't understand is, when it cost's $20 to produce 100# milk and you get paid $16 for that 100# by DFA, guess what...you're borrowing money to milk you own cows!

The problem is NOT with the farmer. Hello?

-- Posted by dchannes on Tue, Oct 2, 2012, at 9:29 PM

Should we have gas price subsidies? The cost of gas has doubled, should Americans be able to take tax dollars from other Americans to pay the additional amount it costs them to get to work, school, and church?!?!

Let the store prices go up. Supply and demand work. Government doesn't!

-- Posted by bbollmann on Wed, Oct 3, 2012, at 8:14 AM

It's priced per hundred pounds of milk, not 100 gallons as was stated incorrectly in the article. Big difference. One gallon of milk weighs 8.6 lbs, so do the math... The dairyman gets very little.

-- Posted by sillymom on Wed, Oct 3, 2012, at 11:34 AM

No doubt the American farmer works hard, I just don't think I should have to subsidize his business. If I wanted to open a coffee shop or shoe repair businesss, would I get a subsidy if I didn't get enough business to keep me going? I don't think so.

-- Posted by tobedetermined on Wed, Oct 3, 2012, at 6:28 PM

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Expired programs
U.S. Department of Agriculture has determined beginning Oct. 1 it cannot make new commitments to the following programs because the program authority or funding has expired:

Dairy Forward Pricing Program

Milk Income Loss Contract Program

Dairy Promotion and Research Program

Adjusted Gross Income Limitation (for certain programs)

Conservation Reserve Program

Wetlands Reserve Program

Grassland Reserve Program

Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program

Voluntary Public Access

Market Access Program

Foreign Market Development Cooperator Program

Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops

Emerging Markets Program

Local and Regional Food Aid Procurement Projects

Food for Progress

Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust

Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program

National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board

Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative

Specialty Crop Research Initiative

Beginning Farmer and Ranchers Development Program

Enhanced Use Lease Authority Pilot Program

Healthy Forest Reserve Program

Biobased Markets Program

Biodiesel Fuel Education Program

Biomass Research and Development Initiative

Biomass Crop Assistance Program

Farmers' Market Promotion Program

Specialty Crop Block Grants

National Clean Plant Network

National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program

Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives

National Sheep Industry Improvement Center

Outreach and Technical Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers or Ranchers

SOURCE: Missouri Farm Service Agency

Map of pertinent addresses
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