Got Milk? Will It Be Affordable?

We have all seen the headlines.  The constant is “Milk Prices,” and the regardless of phrasing the theme is consistent.  Milk prices will rise.

Shoppers face rising milk prices if Congress can’t break farm bill impasse

Milk Prices Could Rise If Congress Fumbles Farm Bill

Why milk prices could soar to $8

Milk Prices Could Hit $7 a Gallon in 2014

Even though these headlines are shocking some, we have seen similar.  Actually, it was only last year, 2012, but to many that far back is ancient history.

Congress just let the farm bill expire. It’s not the end of the world … yet.

Most who read from my blog already know that the issue involves either a passage of a new farm bill or another extension to the bill passed in 2008.  You also realize that a “farm bill” contains much more than merely provisions about crops.  Food stamps or what is referred to as SNAP today is perhaps the most contested aspect on the political front.

Former students have asked if the headlines about milk prices are correct.  I wish that I could provide an easy answer.  Any answer, however, depends upon actions or as is the norm with the 113th, lack of actions by Congress before leaving DC for another recess break.  Republican, Democrat, or Tea Party, my opinion is that too much attention is given to fund raising and the next election than to representing the people.  Some agree with me in regard to Republican or Democrat, but many argue with my Tea Party assertion.  Aside from blaming everybody else for problems, producing emotional sound bites, being all talk and no action, and doing everything possible to prevent any actions which might help the country and thus have some credit (most likely wrongly as so many things are beyond the Constitutional power of the office) given to President Obama, can anyone name a single Tea Party proposal by its Members in Congress that has actually benefitted this country?

I’ll argue that with the professional politician Democrats and Republicans as well, but despite this grass roots claim among many Tea Party advocates, once in Congress the Members’ actions have been that of other professional politicians in that their work has been for personal benefit and not that of constituents or country.  If one argues that they do represent the ordinary constituent, my response is to compare your access to that of a special interest group’s access to your representative.  Aside from words, how much has actually been done for the benefit who elected the individual to represent them?  Using Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, or Barack Obama as excuses for why individuals such as Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Trey Gowdy, or Michelle Bachmann have not succeeded in “saving” the US in my opinion is only an endorsement that Cruz, et al. are inferior to Reid, et al.  US history has many examples of mavericks and statesmen succeeding against all odds, but these individuals today are themselves professional politicians or media personalities with captive audiences financing their personal portfolios.

Commentary about the 113th and the 112th Congresses aside, the milk issue hinges upon what is called “permanent law.”  Legally, the descriptor permanent is essentially the same as in common usage in that it is never-ending.  That is that it is “never-ending” but can be made null and void by a subsequent law.  In other words, the “permanent law” only applies in absence of another law to replace it for a fixed period of time.

The primary laws at issue are the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938, and the Agricultural Act of 1949.

Their roles in the current situation are summarized in the 16 September 2013 Congressional Research Service publication, Expiration and Extension of the 2008 Farm Bill.

Additional information can be found in reports from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The National Association of the State Departments of Agriculture, NASDA, has a brief sheet on Potential Implications of Repealing Permanent Farm Law here.

The Milk Producers Council breaks down the permanent law in reference to today’s headlines in their 27 September 2013 newsletter here.

For a summary of US Agriculture and Farm Policy in the 20th century, I recommend this USDA Economic Research Service publication.

For more detailed information of US Agriculture and Farm Policy since the Civil War, I recommend the following as a starting point.  Links are made to the respective book on for easy access to the ISBN number and all should be available at your local libraries or via inter library loan through your local library.(Disclaimer:  I have academic, personal, or professional ties to each of the historians listed below).

The Farmer’s Last Frontier: Agriculture, 1860-1897 (Economic History of the United States, Vol. 5)  by Fred Shannon.

Reluctant Farmer:  Rise of Agricultural Extension to 1914 by Roy Scott

American Farmers: The New Minority by Gilbert Fite

From Prairie Farmer to Entrepreneur: The Transformation of Midwestern Agriculture by Dennis Nordin and Roy Scott

For general works on post Civil War agriculture in the South with a more personal and often nostalgic twist, I recommend the following trio:

Breaking the Land: The Transformation of Cotton, Tobacco, and Rice Cultures since 1880 by Pete Daniel

Rural Worlds Lost: The American South, 1920-1960 by Jack Temple Kirby

Cotton Fields No More: Southern Agriculture 1865 – 1980 by Gilbert Fite

As I told my former students, I cannot predict the future even on milk prices.  Any answers rest in the decisions made by this Congress.  The background of current events, however, is quite easy to research by reading through the previous bills listed earlier.  Context and historical perspective is available in the brief bibliography listed and many other sources.

The correct action or incorrect action in one’s opinion is determined by their own perspective.  As a member of the general public, my opinion is no better or worse than yours.  I do know, however, that nothing in this debate should be a surprise to any Member of Congress.  Nothing should have been left to be determined only after reaching a crisis deadline, or as some have termed the “Dairy Cliff.”  The information is basic US History, and previous Congresses addressed the issues necessary to their time.  Agree or disagree, they made decisions which hopefully most believed were in the best interests of the country at the time.

Today though…