Farm and Ranch

Dec 28, 2012 6:00 PM by Robin O'Day - KPAX News

Bitterroot farmer doubtful of "milk cliff"

FLORENCE - We'll be ringing in the New Year in just a few days, but without a new Farm Bill, we could be ringing in huge prices for dairy products.

James Curtis buys milk often for his 16-month-old daughter, and says it's shocking to think milk could get more expensive.

"It was really surprising because it's already $4. I remember when it was $1.50 and I'm not even that old," Curtis said.

The price of a gallon of milk could nearly double if Congress fails to approve a new U.S. Farm Bill. New father James Curtis says that could mean skimming down an already tight budget to feed his family.

"All throughout the day it's her favorite drink, she doesn't like juice, she drinks milk, Vitamin D everyday, morning, night, throughout the day, so it's definitely going to be interesting having $8 every couple of days because I go through a gallon every couple of days," says Curtis.

Bitterroot dairy farmer David Lewis says the new price of milk will far exceed the price of what it actually costs to produce the product.

"It probably will never happen. If it did, it doesn't mean that anybody will pay us that much for milk, it means that the government has to step in buy and try to create a demand for the milk," Lewis explained.

"I'm reasonably sure they'll fix it before it gets that far. Sounds great, but I haven't booked a trip to Hawaii yet, so we're good," he added..

Government price supports for milk will revert to 1949 levels without a new bill, going back to a time when farms were more labor intensive.

That old system doesn't match today's more efficient dairies, along with a wider selection of beverages.

"The same thing that happens with $6 gasoline, we quit buying it, we back off, we use less, we maybe dilute it. Maybe drink soda pop, because soda pop is all the sudden way cheaper," says Lewis.

Although Lewis says don't hit the panic button yet, consumers like Curtis are reluctantly preparing themselves for the worst.

"It's kind of weird how a few people in Washington can kind of decide, what we're going to have to be careful of," Curtis said.

The bill affects all dairy products, including powdered milk and cheese. The dairy subsidy expires on January 1st.

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