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DPAC observes four years of ‘good fight’
Farm bill hurdles make it a roller coaster

DPAC’s so-called “founding father” Bernie Morrissey is surrounded by (l-r) former Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Denny Wolff, a partner in Versant Strategies serving as DPAC’s advocacy representative; Daniel Brandt, DPAC co-chairman; Tom Krall, friend of DPAC; Rob Barley, DPAC co-chair; Cliff Hawbaker, past chairman of DPAC; Alan Kozak, DPAC vice-chair; and Nelson Troutman, a charter member of DPAC. Approximately 50 people attended a special luncheon meeting of the DPAC charter members, friends and dignitaries honoring charter DPAC member Zach Meck who is battling cancer while also marking the four year anniversary of the grassroots coalition and its mission to actively participate, with a unified voice, on policies and issues affecting milk pricing.
Photo by Sherry Bunting


By SHERRY BUNTING
Special for Farmshine

EAST EARL, Pa. – There are three big issues standing between now and adjournment of Congress next Friday, December 13. The farm bill is one of the three. Speculation ranges from no farm bill in 2013, to the possibility of a conference report, to the possibility of a two-year extension of current farm bill provisions.

On Wednesday, December 4, charter members of the Dairy Policy Action Coalition (DPAC), friends, and dignitaries gained insights into some of the technical hurdles a new farm bill must jump. With the theme of “Strength during adversity,” around 50 people gathered at Shady Maple here in eastern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, to celebrate DPAC’s beginnings four years ago, review the coalition's progress, and devote time after lunch to “toast” and “roast”charter member Zach Meck who is battling cancer (see related story on page 32).

While some major pieces of the House and Senate versions of the farm bill are similar, there are stark differences to overcome in conference committee because the two versions use fundamentally different philosophies, according to Tom Tillett, chief of staff for Congressman Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania’s 16th district. “There are some very technical issues to wade through, and a huge underground war over things like whether base acreage for crop insurance should be based on historical acreage or current plantings.”

Tillett explained that the Senate is approaching farm policy as a revenue guarantee, whereas the House is looking at costs of production and wanting to provide a safety net when those costs get out of whack.

“This process has been like a rollercoaster. “Every time we think a compromise is close, things fall apart and disappear,” said former Pennsylvania Ag Secretary Denny Wolff. As a partner with Versant Strategies, Wolff has served as the government relations specialist for DPAC for the past four years.

Touching on issues such as the debate over how base acres are determined for revenue insurance, Wolff said the House does not want farm programs that influence farmers to base their business decisions (or planting decisions) on what the revenue insurance will be.

In like fashion, the dairy title differences between the House and Senate are equally fundamental. While the Senate version (Dairy Security Act) would use government programs to influence on-farm business decisions via the inclusion of supply management penalties, the House version would use a standalone form of margin insurance (Goodlatte-Scott amendment), which would give government a much smaller role and leave some market risk in the equation to discourage irresponsible business decisions.

“With the other issues that have emerged in conference, dairy is now third or fourth in the pecking order of hurdles needing to find a compromise” said Wolff. “Not that long ago, dairy was at the top.”

No matter its pecking order among the four key hurdles standing in the way of a farm bill conference report, it is difficult to imagine a conference report that would include the DSA since the DSA was already rejected by the House.

“Speaker of the House John Boehner has openly and publicly opposed the DSA, my boss (Joe Pitts) happens to agree with him, having voted for the Goodlatte-Scott amendment when that amendment passed the House by a large majority,” said Tillett.

The good news for a farm bill is that there is a conference committee working on it. Tillett explained that conference committees are a rare happening in “modern” Washington. “If they come up with a conference report, it will go back to both the House and Senate for votes, and some more political dynamics can come into play,” he said.