Even so, Goule concedes that if a fiscal cliff bill doesn’t come together several days after Christmas, “we’ll probably be looking at a one-year extension.”

If Congress fails to act prior to year’s end and 1949 law is enacted, “the immediate change in the dairy policy won’t be felt by the consumer on Day One,” says Goule. “It’ll have to work its way through the production system.

“If the House can pass fiscal cliff legislation — and that’s a big ‘if’ — there will be something in there to extend the (2008) farm bill for a year. That will include a dairy element.”

Asked for a prediction on how the next Congress will legislate, Clark says the next three to six months will tell the tale.

“Almost anyone with common sense could quickly come up with a deal that would get 218 votes in the House,” says Clark. “The problem Boehner is confronted with is his caucus doesn’t want him to put a bill on the floor unless a majority of the Republicans support it.

“Obama could cut a fiscal cliff deal with (Senate Minority Leader, Kentucky Sen. Mitch) McConnell and it gets through the Senate. It could be a deal in the middle that would pass the House — say, 120 Republicans and 100 Democrats or vice-versa — and could open a window to get more centrist legislation through the House. If that happens, the farm bill could come to the House floor and it could get done.”

However, Clark speculates that scenario might spike Boehner’s chances for re-election as House Speaker in early January. “If Boehner schedules a vote on such a centrist bill right after Christmas, the House passes it and the fiscal cliff is averted, will he be re-elected or thrown out?”

Meanwhile, the uncertainty over farm law and constant back-and-forth between lawmakers and the White House has led to nervous farmers and rural bankers going into the 2013 cropping season.

“We’re looking at a situation like 2009/2010 when we were in a major credit shortage,” says Goule. “If the next farm bill is written in 2013 and crop insurance has to be cut significantly and the lowering of the safety net value, it’s a guarantee that lenders will pull in some of their credit.

“Those are our risk management tools. If those are cut back then lenders will cut back on how much credit they’ll provide.

“The discussions on that have already started and we’re hearing from producers worried about operating loans for next spring.”

Goule says producers need to call the Republican leadership immediately after Christmas and insist on a five-year farm bill. “If that doesn’t happen, expect crop insurance to be cut, conservation programs to be cut, rural development will be cut, renewable energy will be cut, the farm safety net will be cut and nutrition will be cut.”

“Thank God agriculture is doing relatively well, right now,” says Clark. “If commodity prices were in the toilet, this situation would be really awful. That may be one reason Congress’ sense of urgency to get the farm bill done isn’t what it might be.”