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Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
Email: mhernandez@wwltv.com | Twitter: @mhernandezwwl

NEW ORLEANS - Taxes aren't all that could skyrocket if congress doesn't take action by the New Year. The price of dairy could more than double if lawmakers don't pass a sweeping farm bill.

Dairy is a staple for Chef Nick Martin at A Mano in the Warehouse District.

'You assume, oh dairy, people are going to drink coffee, people are going to have dessert,' said Martin.

But the cost of the commodity could skyrocket if Congress doesn't renew a multi-billion dollar farm bill by Jan. 1. Some predict milk could reach up to $8 a gallon.

'It's a huge weight to just throw on the local community and just say, 'Alright, we'll deal with this,'' said Martin.

'The trickle-down effect on the whole cattle industry, everything else, really it could be disastrous,' said Jerry Hingle, executive director of the Southern United States Trade Association, or SUSTA.

SUSTA connects small businesses with importers worldwide and is funded by the farm bill.

'Organizations like ourselves are running on fumes, just using money that was allocated to us in the past, to basically keep the lights on,' said Hingle. 'So we're deeply concerned with the farm bill no longer in place, we don't have the boots on the ground and we don't have the resources we need to keep international markets open for our products.'

If the farm bill isn't passed, farming policies could revert to those of 1949, and the government would have to buy dairy surplus at top dollar. That could raise prices for everyone.

Bill Ryals, a third generation dairy farmer out of Tylertown, Miss., is concerned higher prices will drive people away from buying dairy altogether.

'I think it'll push people away from milk. You're always going to have your milk drinkers, but if it goes to $8 a gallon, it's going to be tough,' said Ryals. 'They need this farm bill to keep the prices to where we can survive.'

The sweeping farm bill is typically renewed every five years. And it doesn't just impact the dairy industry. It also provides crop insurance and helps keep the door open to export agriculture. The ripple effect could impact the Port of New Orleans.

'Sixty percent of the nation's corn is exported through the nation's port system, right here in our backyard,' said Hingle.

Experts say we likely won't see any drastic effects overnight. Some experts believe Congress won't reach a deal on the farm bill until the spring.

Meanwhile, the federal government is exploring options to head off potential disaster if the farm bill expires.

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