House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., wants to reform federal dairy policy ahead of the 2012 Farm Bill debate.
"If we have another downturn in prices we don't have a safety net that works in dairy," Peterson said. "If we get another deal like we did in '09 we're going to lose half our dairy farmers, and we're never going to get them back. So I don't think it is an option to wait."
Peterson backs the National Milk Producers Federation's dairy market stabilization program, dubbed Foundation for the Future, and says a just-completed Congressional Budget Office scoring shows the proposal would cost taxpayers less than existing dairy policy and therefore would not add to the budget deficit, thus satisfying a key demand of House Republican leaders.
"We are finishing the drafting of the bill right now," Peterson said. "Then we're going to send it back to CBO to have another reconfirming score by CBO. If that comes back positive, which I think it will, then what I'm pushing for is that we introduce the bill here within the next week or two."
Peterson says he hopes Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., will sign off on the accelerated timetable. He notes Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., told him she was open to fast-tracking dairy legislation through the upper chamber provided the House acted first.
The International Dairy Foods Association, which represents processors, opposes NMPF's package of reforms and prefers that lawmakers deal with dairy as part of the Farm Bill reauthorization. It claims Foundation for the Future would limit U.S. dairy export potential and make milk prices more volatile. Peterson says IDFA, in his words, needs to get real.
"They're getting three-fourths what they've been looking for," Peterson said. "When you get three-fourths of what you've been trying to get for the last 10 years you should declare victory."
Ultimately, Peterson predicts Foundation for the Future will enjoy broad support within the dairy industry.