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Published September 05, 2011, 04:27 AM

Chance to fix dairy industry is now

WASHINGTON — It has been nearly three years since the combination of declining milk prices and escalating input costs devastated the dairy industry. Many producers were forced out of business while others barely managed to survive.

By: Collin C. Peterson,

WASHINGTON — It has been nearly three years since the combination of declining milk prices and escalating input costs devastated the dairy industry. Many producers were forced out of business while others barely managed to survive.

The dairy safety net did not work in 2009, and it won’t work if similar events occur now. Current dairy programs are not keeping pace with the challenges facing today’s industry. In fact, the current levels of support actually will decrease in September 2012.

I recently put forward a discussion draft of proposed dairy reforms that I think will offer better protection, create stability and inspire growth in the dairy sector. The dairy industry can be a diverse and divided industry, and, for the first time, I have seen agreement that the current system is hurting American dairy producers. We can’t let this opportunity pass us by.

Time for consideration

Releasing a discussion draft, rather than legislation, gives the dairy industry the opportunity to weigh in and perhaps offer other suggestions. The reforms outlined in the discussion draft are not written in stone, and there certainly will be changes before legislation is introduced.

Working together, I think we can create a safety net that will provide the support all sectors of the industry need while also being mindful of the current budget situation.

We all know that this country is facing a budget crisis. In today’s budget climate, it simply is not realistic to suggest dairy program changes that cost more money than current programs. Congress repeatedly has targeted agriculture as part of efforts to reduce the federal budget deficit. Dairy, like all agriculture programs, won’t be immune from future budget-cutting pressures. The discussion draft’s reforms provide savings and put us on the right path.

Avoiding another collapse

We need to act sooner, rather than later, with real solutions, not just heated rhetoric. The symptoms leading up to the 2009 dairy crisis again are presenting themselves, and I fear we could lose half our dairies if we have another collapse. That would be devastating not only to the entire dairy industry, but also to consumers in this fragile economy. With the continued uncertainty in Washington, this is our best chance to act.

Releasing the discussion draft was a first step. I look forward to building consensus. I plan to introduce bipartisan, cost-effective legislation in the coming weeks. I’ve appreciated the feedback from the dairy industry thus far and am hopeful that producers and processors can come together in a constructive way in the best interest of our dairy industry.

We have the best dairy producers in the world. We need to ensure that they have the backing and the safety net they need so they can continue to provide for American consumers.

Editor’s Note: Peterson, D-Minn., is ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee.

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