Tonko talks farm bill with area agricultural community

By REBECCA WEBSTER

Recorder News Staff

TOWN OF FLORIDA -- U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko stopped in to Karen's Produce Tuesday evening to speak to local members of the agricultural sector on the stalled federal farm bill.

But Tonko, D-Amsterdam, was also there to listen to and respond to their concerns.

Martin Kelly, president of the Montgomery County Farm Bureau, said the forum was an important opportunity for producers and those in the agricultural industry to keep up to date with what is happening in their sector, especially the stagnant farm bill.

"It will have an adverse affect on people across the nation," he said. "It's important on many different levels that Congress works together to get this passed."

Though not too many effects of the stall have shown their face in the county right now, Tonko said, in the future, milk prices could raise, farmers could lose support programs available to them, and even some services not directly connected to agriculture could could affected, like Food Stamps.

The Senate passed a bipartisan farm bill back in June, Tonko said, and in July the House Agricultural Committee approved its own five-year farm bill.

But currently, the majority of the House of Representatives has refused to bring the farm bill to the floor, Tonko said.

The 2008 Farm Bill generally expired on Sept. 30.

The congressman called it "deplorable" that there isn't enough "respect or reverence" for the agricultural industry.

"The House Ag Committee did not produce a perfect bill as many would suggest, but it is a start," he told the crowd.

Tonko said without one, it will put both producer and consumer at risk.

That's why he has put pressure on the process and worked to try and get people to move, he said.

"Without the passage of a new bill, we're left with a patchwork of programs," Tonko said, adding that some will have authorizations and appropriations for up to a year while others will expire or have expired.

David Balbain, an area dairy management specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Galway, told the congressman that looking at feed prices and milk prices, just recently farmers have had the worst milk-to-feed-price ratio since its been calculated.

"It's been a pretty tough road for dairy farmers and producers that were eligible for MILC payments, they're certainly going to miss those, there's no question about it," he said.

MILC, or the Milk Income Loss Contract, a program that compensates dairy producers when domestic milk prices fall below a specific level, was one of the programs that expired on Sept. 30.

Pattersonville dairy farmer Tom Nelson said after that meeting that he is slightly nervous about what the bill will turn in to.

"The longer they hold it, the more likely they will be to make a snap decision," he said, adding that a snap decision will likely not be good for anyone.

After the forum, Tonko said that farming is a critical way of life in many communities in Montgomery County.

"I think that for us to not take these factors into account and politics to get in the way, for this extreme thinking to say that farming is too big of an investment or whatever their reason is for not bringing it to the floor, is wrong," he said. "We need a long-term commitment. We need to provide predictability, certainty, and that's important for any business, and certainly for one that has to endure through mother nature and fuel costs and just the pressures of business."