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Farm Bill Compromise Expands Safety Net For Smaller Dairy Farms

Dairy cows eat at the Sweet Farm in Fletcher earlier this month.
Melody Bodette
/
VPR File
The latest version of the Farm Bill improves an insurance program aimed at helping smaller-sized dairy farms.

The U.S. House voted Wednesday afternoon to pass a compromise farm bill that boosts protections for smaller-sized dairy farms.

The bill, which revamps an existing dairy insurance program, had cleared the U.S. Senate Tuesday. It now goes to President Donald Trump.

Diane Bothfeld, director of administrative services and dairy policy with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, said the insurance program kicks in when the spread between the farm’s feed cost and the price they’re paid for milk gets beyond a certain point. The bill widens the spread to help smaller producers.

“And the ability to insure that higher margin is positive for smaller farms, who may have higher costs for supplies because they buy small amounts,” Bothfeld said. “They can’t buy things in bulk, because they don’t need that, so sometimes their costs are higher on smaller farms.”

The compromise bill also lowers the premiums farms will pay for the insurance program. Bothfeld says new rules will have to be written for the program and that producers will probably be able to enroll sometime this spring.

So far this year, Vermont lost 63 dairy farms, with 699 remaining in business as of Dec. 5, a decline of 8.27 percent, according to the latest figures from the Agency of Agriculture. In 2018, farmers faced another year of declining milk prices. An insurance program in the previous farm bill failed to help.

Bothfeld said this compromise bill provides a premium refund to farmers who enrolled in the insurance program from 2014 to 2017.

The bill also removes hemp from a federal list of banned substances, removing a legal cloud over hemp growers in Vermont and around the country. Vermont saw a record number of hemp producers apply to grow the product this year.

“It will be very nice to have that off the list of scheduled drugs,” Bothfeld said. “And I think it will open up even further in Vermont. We've got a lot more people registering to grow hemp, and I think it will continue to grow, especially now that it’s not illegal.”

Update Dec. 13, 9:30 a.m. Updated to include latest totals on Vermont farms going out of business in 2018.

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