As wheat futures fell to near a two-year low point and the decline, extending over six straight quarters, was called "the longest losing streak in at least five decades," the time seemed near at hand when producers of wheat and other grains would begin pressing the federal government for some sort of assistance. While little of the federal stimulus funding that is currently being passed out with near abandon has been singled out to help farmers, it is likely that some of those billions might be sought for food purchases meant to help the needy as well as sustaining weak markets.

It should be no surprise, considering where advocacy has often surfaced in the past among commodity groups, that dairy farmers have been the first to press for aid. A bill making its way in Congress allocates $350 million to help milk producers, of which a sizable share will be used to buy cheese and other dairy products for distribution to needy people. Further, a major rewrite of dairy programs is being studied for inclusion in new farm legislation due in 2013. "These are desperate times in farming," said a senator of a dairy state.

The European Commission is launching similar moves, authorizing payments to individual dairy farmers, expanding quota buying schemes and providing quicker response "to secure long-term prospects of the dairy industry." Discussions also are under way in Europe about the possibility of a dairy futures market that would offer a form of insurance for individual producers.