For Immediate Release, September 29, 1998

Contact: Tina Wisell, (802) 229-1941

House-Senate Conferees Approve Extension of Northeast Dairy Compact: Compact Commission Optimistic the Extension Will Bode Well for the Compact's Future

U.S. House and Senate conferees late Monday night gave their approval to legislation that would extend the life of the Northeast Dairy Compact for an additional six months. Compact Commission representatives expressed delight over Monday's vote, stating that the extension will be beneficial for those working for a more permanent life for the Compact.

The House had approved language in its Agriculture Appropriations bill that would extend the deadline for federal order reform until October 1999, and thereby also extending the sunset date for the Northeast Dairy Compact to that date. While the Senate did not have extension language in its bill, conferees last night decided to retain the House language. A final vote on the measure is expected next week.

Congress gave its approval to the Compact as part of the Farm Bill in March 1996. The Compact was authorized to operate as a pilot project that would terminate upon the implementation of Federal milk market order consolidation, which was previously set for April 1999. In order for the Compact to operate past the sunset date, it would need reauthorization from Congress.

Compact Commission Chair Michael Wiers said today that the extension of the Compact's sunset date will provide much-needed time to those working to accomplish the goals of the Compact. "This extension gives us breathing room. It will give the Commission the ability to continue to function as it has been in working to assure the continued viability of dairy farming in the Northeast and to assure consumers in this region of an adequate, local supply of pure and wholesome milk. It will also provide us with an opportunity to work for a more permanent life for the Compact."

Commission Executive Director Ken Becker added, "This extension does not guarantee that the Compact will last forever, but it does give us additional time to demonstrate to Congress and others the benefits that the Compact provides to both farmers and consumers.

"The fundamentally biggest issue is that with the upcoming election, there could likely be a brand new Congress in 1999. For those new members to understand the ins and outs of federal milk marketing and compact regulation by the previous April 1999 sunset date would be a monumental task. This extension, therefore, gives Congress more time to understand the workings of the Compact and it gives the U.S. Department of Agriculture more time to figure out its various options.

Becker concluded, "The goal of a dairy compact is to stabilize milk prices at the farm level, and it has been shown that less volatility at the farm level is a benefit to consumers. The Northeast Dairy Compact has begun to provide that stability in this region. A coalition of 10 states in the Southeast has also joined to form a compact. The Southeast has realized that as its population is growing, its milk production is shrinking, and a compact would provide a tool for keeping that local market supplied with fresh milk. Maryland and New Jersey have passed compact legislation as well. Therefore, when the question comes before Congress whether to reauthorize the Northeast Dairy Compact and approve additional compacts, Congress should listen to the 18 states that have already passed compact language because they see it as the best solution for both farmers and consumers."

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