WASHINGTON — A gallon of milk could double in price if lawmakers don’t pass a long-delayed farm bill by the end of the year, according to agricultural experts.
Milk would likely cost between $6 and $7 a gallon if a new farm bill isn’t enacted or extended, estimates the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, an alliance of grassroots organizations that advocates for federal policy reform. Lack of action on the bill would result in the Agriculture Department ending its current dairy price support program.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has warned that absent a new farm bill, he would be forced to revert to a 1949 law that would cause prices for milk and other products to skyrocket in January.
Failure to meet the deadline or pass a stopgap measure would mean that “breakfast in the United States is going to be significantly more expensive,” said Vilsack.
“Milk. Butter. Cheese. Eventually, rice. Corn. Wheat products,” Vilsack said recently in Kansas City. “There’s no question that’s going to happen. The law requires me to do that.”
House and Senate negotiators plan to meet again this week in hopes of passing the farm bill, an omnibus measure that sets federal agricultural policy and spending on food aid. The legislation is one of several items lawmakers hope to cross off their to-do list in the coming weeks, including a new budget agreement, a defense authorization bill and the confirmation of top Obama administration appointees.
Failure to meet a Jan. 1 deadline won’t rattle stock markets or spoil the nation’s credit rating, but a new farm bill is more than two years overdue, and congressional leaders have so far been unwilling to consider passing another short-term extension.
The Agriculture Department is preparing to take steps that could prompt a series of changes affecting several commodities and grocery prices.
But there seems to be little worry on Capitol Hill because lead negotiators believe they can meet the deadline and some of their aides suggest privately that a new farm bill could be passed as part of a broader budget agreement, which must be enacted by Jan. 15 to avoid another government shutdown.
On Monday, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., didn’t rule out packaging a farm bill with other must-pass legislation.
“I’m taking this one step at a time. That’s how we’ve gotten as far as we’ve gotten,” she said in an interview. “I believe this can be done by the end of this year if there’s the political will to do it.”
Stabenow and the lead Republican on her committee, Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., plan to cut short their two-week Senate recess and return to Washington to meet with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla. and other House negotiators Wednesday.
“I think we’ve got all the elements. We just need to get people to agree,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., a senior member of the negotiating group.