- Associated Press - Friday, October 3, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - The Missouri legislature’s failure to override the veto of an agriculture bill could jeopardize the future of dairy farms in the state, dairy farmers say.

Senate Bill 506 and its counterpart, House Bill 1326, contained the Missouri Dairy Revitalization Act, which would have allowed the state to pay a portion of the insurance premiums in the federal farm bill’s insurance program, the Columbia Missourian reported (http://bit.ly/1nB5xfF ).

Senate Bill 506 received enough votes in the Senate for a potential veto override, but it failed to garner the necessary votes in the House. The House never attempted to override the veto of House Bill 1326.

Gov. Jay Nixon said he vetoed the bill because of an amendment about captive deer that would have transferred regulation of the captive deer industry to the Missouri Department of Agriculture from the Missouri Department of Conservation - a change widely opposed by the conservation community.

Dairy farmers said they blame the captive deer language for causing the ultimate failure of the legislature to override Nixon’s veto.

Dave Drennan, executive director of the Missouri Dairy Association, said the defeat of the bills could mean trouble for dairy farmers who experience unpredictable weather and fluctuating market conditions.

“We’re going to continue to lose dairy farms in the meantime until we can get enough help to purchase good insurance to protect dairy farmers during rough times,” he said.

Through the federal farm bill, Missouri dairy farmers are eligible to participate in an insurance program in case of catastrophic events like the droughts in 2009, 2010 and 2012, Drennan said.

When farmers enroll in the program, they choose what level of insurance they want and can afford, he said.

The better the insurance coverage, the higher the annual premium. But not all farmers can afford the coverage they might need if the weather and economy remain as unpredictable as in recent years. Drennan said that’s where the state comes in.

“The dairy act would have helped them pay the premium in hopes that they would buy better insurance coverage,” Drennan said.

Drennan said Missouri lost close to 100 dairies in 2012 due to severe drought conditions. With better insurance coverage, farmers won’t be as likely to shut down their entire operation when a catastrophic event happens, he said.

“These farm bills had received overwhelming support when they were voted on in the General Assembly,” Drennan said. “But, as usual, politics got in the way of helping farmers who are just trying to maintain their livelihoods. Dairy farmers certainly aren’t looking to get rich.”

Larry Purdom, chairman of the Missouri Dairy Association, owns and operates a family farm in Purdy. He said he plans to purchase insurance through the farm bill’s program but wishes he could purchase better insurance with help from the state.

Purdom said passing the dairy act would have provided a sense of security for dairy farmers who struggled through previous droughts and economics slumps.

A decrease in local dairy farms and an increase in dairy consumption has forced Missouri to import products from neighboring states, he said.

“In the 1960s, my milk went to Dallas, Texas, and now we’re importing about half the dairy we use in Missouri from other states,” Purdom said.

Purdom said importing dairy products increases the cost for the consumer and causes the state to miss out on collecting tax revenue.

“We’re paying more to haul that product into the state, and we’re losing taxes for the state,” he said.

Purdom said operating a dairy farm without insurance is a big risk in today’s climate.

“We need the insurance because the weather here is just so unreliable,” he said. “You never know if the year is going to bring enough rain, or if everything is going to be bone dry, and that really negatively impacts farmers.”

Insurance premiums are not cheap, but participating in the program is the responsible decision, Purdom said.

“This would’ve been the least costly way to help any dairy farmer,” he said. “If farms close in Missouri, dairy gets brought in from other states, and that’s money we’re not putting back into the economy here.”

Alfred Brandt, owner of Brandt Dairy Farm in Linn, said the highest level of insurance for his farm would cost about $20,000.

If the veto of the bill had been overridden and the legislature had appropriated funds for dairy farmers, Brandt said he would have paid about $7,000 out of his own pocket for the highest-level insurance coverage. But without reimbursement from the state, Brandt can’t afford the top insurance coverage.

“I don’t think I can afford to go for that high premium,” he said. “I’ll just be insured for a lot less.”

Brandt said attaching the captive deer provision “sabotaged” the dairy bill because legislators knew the dairy bill might not pass with the captive deer language included.

“It was just a political battle,” he said. “There are other ways to go about it than to take it out on us.”

Senate Bill 506 failed by a vote of 108-49 in the House - just one vote short of the necessary 109 to override a veto.

“I was that one vote,” Rep. Keith English, D-Florissant, said. “There are just some things in the bill that I couldn’t swallow.”

English said he supported both the captive deer amendment and the dairy act but decided to side with the governor because he wanted to see each issue brought before the legislature as a separate bill.

English voted in favor of passing Senate Bill 506 when it was presented in the House but voted to uphold the governor’s decision during the veto session Sept. 10.

“When you have bills that are this big and cause so much division for issues that are completely unrelated to each other, you have to break them up into smaller bills,” he said.

Rep. Bob Burns, D-St. Louis, also voted in favor of Senate Bill 506 when it was presented in the House but voted to uphold the governor’s veto based on similar disapproval of large omnibus bills.

“My heart goes out to farmers,” he said. “They’re the backbone of agriculture in this state. Family farmers are so important to Missouri, and I hate seeing politics get in the way of the best interest of farmers.”

Burns said changing regulation of the captive deer industry would have put the wild deer population at a greater risk for contracting chronic wasting disease, a highly contagious neurological disease found in deer and elk.

“This change had the potential to completely wipe out our native deer population,” he said. “Missouri has a huge hunting industry, and jeopardizing the wildlife in this state just isn’t a risk we need to take.”

Burns said he hoped the Dairy Revitalization Act would be brought back as a “clean” bill at the next session.

“I wish they would bring it back as a freestanding bill,” he said. “There’s nothing more important than protecting local businesses, but this is one prime example of how politics can get in the way of what’s best for people.”

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Information from: Columbia Missourian, http://www.columbiamissourian.com

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