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Dairy program operating at reduced levels, Owens says

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Rep. William L. Owens said a safety-net program for dairy farmers has started to dry up amid congressional inaction.

The Milk Income Loss Contract, or MILC, provides payments to dairy farmers if domestic milk prices fall below a certain level.

But support the program provides has been reduced since Sept. 1, according to Mr. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, and will be defunct if Congress doesn’t pass a new farm law by Sept. 30.

And Mr. Owens said he wouldn’t support a short-term extension of the program, even as the possibility for a full, five-year extension of the farm bill appears increasingly remote.

A simple one-year extension, which would allow Republicans and Democrats to hash out the plan’s finer details outside the glare of a presidential election, would provide no payments for the rest of the year under the MILC plan.

The developments — or lack of developments — were answered by demonstrations in Washington, D.C., by the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union, which urged Congress to pass the bill.

“The people are very upset with the Republican leadership for not bringing this bill to the floor,” said Mr. Owens, who attended the rally Wednesday.

Mr. Owens’s Republican opponent on Nov. 6, Matthew A. Doheny of Watertown, also supports the farm bill’s passage.

The bill passed the House Agriculture Committee, 35-11, and the Democratic-controlled Senate earlier this summer. But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has declined to bring the bill up for a full House vote.

Mr. Owens said he would consider supporting a one-year extension of the farm bill as long as it maintained the MILC program at pre-Sept. 1 levels, but would prefer to see the full bill passed.

Passage of the full five-year extension would actually replace the MILC program with a margin insurance program.

The margin insurance program would provide payments to dairy farmers if the price of milk falls below the cost of production.

In return, farmers would have to agree to set limits on the amount of milk they produce. The program is voluntary.

“I think that there is a slim hope” of the full bill’s passage, Mr. Owens said. Rep. Collin Peterson, the ranking minority member on the House Agriculture Committee, “recommended that what this is going to require is people in the districts of the Republican leadership calling and saying to them, ‘We want this bill moved,’” Mr. Owens said. “There’s been that feeling that there hasn’t been that grassroots outreach to the people who are obstructing its passage.”

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