JEFFERSON CITY - Dairy farmers claim a decision facing the Missouri legislature could raise the price of dairy products, depending on what happens during the September veto session beginning Wednesday.
The measure would subsidize some costs for state dairy farmers using $3.2 million out of the state's general revenue fund. The state subsidy would focus on allowing farmers to participate in a federal insurance program created by the massive overhaul of federal agriculture programs. The measure was vetoed because of a separate provision, which changes the classification of Missouri's deer population.
The federal insurance would cover the price of feed, which accounts for about 60 percent of dairy farmers' costs of production, in years when the price of feed is significantly higher than the price of milk. The state subsidy, if the legislature overrides Nixon's veto, would cover 70 percent of the insurance price for Missouri milk producers.
Dairy farmers have said Missouri consumers will face increased dairy prices if the legislation is not passed. Missouri, which used to rank 11 in the nation in milk production, now ranks 25. The number of licensed dairy farms in Missouri fell from 1,890 in 2004 to 1,233 in 2014.
In his veto letter, Nixon wrote that the bill also contained a separate provision that shifted the regulation of deer farms, especially those with white-tailed deer, from the Conservation Department to the Agriculture Department. Nixon argued the shift would "be at odds with the longstanding successful conservation practices [of white-tailed deer] and would violate the Missouri Constitution."
Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, disagreed with Nixon about the impact of reclassifying deer.
"When the federal government classifies captive cervids as livestock, I feel it's befitting that Missouri does also," Munzlinger said. "Truthfully, I don't know why there would be concerns because the Missouri Department of Ag has the state veterinarian anyway, which is over the health of all of the animals in the state."
Missouri Dairy Association Executive Director Dave Drennan said providing farmers with the ability to partake in the insurance program would be vital to the dairy industry and reduce the cost of dairy for the consumer.
"Agriculture is a price taker not a price maker," Drennan said. "When [the 2012] drought came, the feed price went up, but the price of milk stayed down. Also, a dairy farmer only makes 26 cents for every dollar you spend on dairy."
The legislation would also authorize 80 scholarships for $5,000 apiece to students working on dairy farms that agree to continue working in Missouri agriculture after graduation. Dairy farmers said this was one of the most important aspects of the issue because the average dairy farmer is nearing retirement.
Lawmakers in support of the measure point to the fact that none of the money in the program would be guaranteed, and it would have to be budgeted every year. Both the House and Senate would have to pass the bill by a two-thirds majority to override Nixon's veto. The bill originally passed the Senate with enough votes to override a veto, but not in the House.