Ag Policy Blog
Chris Clayton DTN Ag Policy Editor

Friday 01/25/13

Senators Push Ag Disaster Relief Bill

Three U.S. senators on Friday announced another attempt to get agricultural disaster assistance to producers for 2012 and 2013 facing losses in livestock and specialty crops.

One of the more questionable decisions in the nine-month extension approved by Congress was failure to extend disaster programs that had expired while protecting the $5 billion direct payment program for grain farmers. Thus, there is no disaster aid program right now for livestock producers who have suffered through multiple years of drought in some areas.

Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., introduced legislation seeking to extend some disaster programs.

“Montana ranchers work hard every day to support jobs across our state and put food on tables across the country, and we can’t turn our backs on them during the worst drought in more than 50 years,” Baucus said. “This bill is the right thing to do for our ranchers and the right thing to do for Montana jobs.”

“We cannot allow farmers to be wiped out because of a few days of bad weather,” said Stabenow. “Agriculture supports nearly one in four jobs in Michigan and 16 million jobs nationwide, and when key parts of the industry are hit this badly it impacts our whole economy. Our nation is helping families who lost everything because of weather disasters like a hurricane in the Northeast, and it is only right we also help farming families who lost everything because of weather disasters.”

“Agriculture supports 16 million jobs across America, and Missouri has the second highest number of farms nationwide. This drought has taken a devastating toll on farm families in Missouri and nationwide, and I won’t stop fighting for this critical disaster relief until we get farmers and ranchers back on their feet again,” Blunt said.

Those programs would include the Livestock Indemnity Program, the Livestock Forage Program, Emergency Livestock Assistance program, Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program and Tree Assistance Program. These programs collectively cost about $763 million during FY 2012, according to USDA budget numbers.

Yet, if lawmakers couldn't get aid for livestock producers passed in a larger tax bill that extended farm programs, it's even more unlikely senators could get the disaster-aid programs approved in a stand-alone bill.

Another twist in pushing for livestock assistance involves the regions where most producers would be helped. Republicans from rural America in the House have proven to be a major stumbling block in funding $50 billion in disaster relief for states affected by Hurricane Sandy. In the Jan. 15 vote, 179 Republicans and one Democrat voted against the aid bill. Every Republican from 22 states voted against the bill, including the Southeast, Midwest and Great Plains, as well as all but one GOP congressman from Texas. Opponents to the disaster package argued offsets were needed to fund such a disaster, though Congress has largely not required such offsets for other major disaster in the recent past.

The Sandy relief passed, but debate and vote broke tradition when it comes to helping other regions of the country in need. It left bitter feelings among Northeast congressmen from both parties.

Almost every state across the country was hit hard with designated agricultural disaster areas for 2012, which includes those 23 states that accounted for most of the lawmakers rejecting aid for Sandy victims.

Farm Service Agency has a map of 2012 disaster counties: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/…

The 2008 farm bill specifically included mandatory funding for agricultural disasters specifically because lawmakers from rural states were having a difficult time getting funding to help farmers and ranchers through disasters. The programs expired just as farmers and ranchers began facing some of the worst drought in decades, leading to the challenge of now trying to reauthorize the programs. While this disaster bill could be attached to a bigger piece of legislation, it's more likely that if senators want to fund this aid they will have to include these provisions in the next five-year farm bill and make them retroactive to 2012.

The Senate is set to vote on the Sandy relief bill on Monday.

I can be found on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

Posted at 1:59PM CST 01/25/13 by Chris Clayton
Comments (1)
Sounds like the senators are feeling a little guilty about targeting some farmers with millions in investment/profit guarantees as well as millions in annual individual subsidies and other farmers with no investment/profit guarantees. I don't suppose millions in investment/profit guarantees and millions in annual individual subsidies for pork producers would pass the smell test in congress. Cutting the federal crop insurance budget by just a few billions should provide a pittance of benefits for livestock producers some of which which have experienced extreme drought.
Posted by Lon Truly at 7:49AM CST 01/27/13
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