By Chris Kick
The federal budget bill that President Donald Trump signed Feb. 9 includes specific reforms intended to help struggling dairy farmers.
The improvements are a step ahead of the 2018 farm bill, which lawmakers are still writing, and include changes to the dairy Margin Protection Program, also known as MPP.
The MPP helps compensate farmers when the margin between the average price for feed and the milk they sell falls to certain, pre-determined levels. The program was included in the last farm bill, but farmers have argued it did not serve them as well as intended.
The MPP changes in the budget legislation include raising the most basic, catastrophic level from $4 to $5, for the first tier of margin protection, and expanding the first tier of coverage from the first 4 million pounds, to 5 million.
The premium a farmer must pay is also being reduced, and the margin will now be calculated on a monthly basis, compared to every two months, which should result in quicker returns to the farmer, if the margin becomes low enough to trigger a payment.
“It sounds like they’re (policy makers) heading in an improved direction,” said Dianne Shoemaker, dairy specialist with Ohio State University Extension.
But she cautioned that until the new premiums are known, a dairy farmer won’t really know how much the changes will help.
Although the basic-level margin protection is expanded, she said that even with low milk prices, we haven’t come anywhere close to the $5 margin protection being offered.
“Things are going to have to be really bad before that would come into play,” she said.
The improvements were part of a spending package announced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, who serves on the Senate Ag Committee.
The disaster package also lifts the $20 million annual cap on all livestock insurance, including the Livestock Gross Margin program, which will allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop a wider variety of risk management tools for larger producers.
The National Milk Producers Federation called the deal “an important victory for America’s dairy farmers.”
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