The debate over the Milk Income Loss Contract, or MILC, program reached a boiling point last week when a Senate spending bill stalled over objections from lawmakers in the West. The measure will be taken up again next week.
"We're hanging in the balance here," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
The disagreement in Congress stems from the way the program pays farmers and the fact that Western dairies tend to be much larger than those in the Northeast and Midwest.
MILC, which expired last month, offers payments to dairy farmers when prices per hundredweight drop below a certain level. Milk prices have been relatively high the past two years, so there has been little need for a payout. But advocates say prices are heading down, and warn that lower prices without the help of the MILC program will drive many small farmers out of business.