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Dairy farmers suffer as bill languishes

Smaller dairy farms - including many in Wisconsin - are among those suffering the most by the lack of a federal Farm Bill.

Small family-owned farms were still getting federal subsidies under the Milk Income Loss Contract program when the old farm package expired September 30, and Congress never passed a replacement. Many other farm programs continued into the harvest season, but the milk program expired.

Benefits for larger farms ran out earlier - but smaller farms were cut off. The program gives support to dairy farmers when market prices fall below certain levels. And since last October, Wisconsin farmers received $75 million from the milk program - twice as much as any other state.

For a number of Badger State producers, the cutoff made a rough year even worse. Dick Gorder of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation said a number of farms in southern areas could not grow all of their own feed during the drought. And those farmers are now buying feed at a cost that's twice as much as in 2009.

Gorder is confident that a new Farm Bill will be passed, but he says the gap is really hurting farms with low equity and without their own feed source.

House Republicans have held up the package because of a dispute over spending on food stamps, which covers most of the bill's allocations. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says he thinks the Farm Bill was stalled so Republicans could avoid a debate on the extent of the spending cuts they're seeking.

Wisconsin House Republican Reid Ribble of Sherwood says he's not hearing from farmers - most likely because they expect a new Farm Bill to be approved by the end of the year.