President Bush signed the $5.5 billion emergency assistance legislation that will provide farmers the supplemental Agricultural Market Transition Act (AMTA) payments they've been looking for since January.

The payments, which will be made at 85 percent of the 2000 AMTA rate, were expected to begin arriving in farmers' mail boxes shortly after the president signed the bill on Aug. 13.

“It's necessary for our ranchers and our farmers,” the president said during the signing ceremony for the The Crop Year 2001 Agricultural Economic Assistance Act, which was held at his ranch near Crawford, Texas. “A lot of people make their living on the farm and on the ranch.”

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, touring Farm Service Agency offices in Lubbock, Texas, announced USDA would begin issuing $5 billion in supplemental AMTA payments to 1.4 million producers Aug. 14.

The payments were expected to include $4.6 billion for supplemental market loss assistance payments to producers receiving a 2001 AMTA payment and $423 million in supplemental payments to 2000-crop oilseed producers.

She said that $84.7 million in payments to cottonseed producers and first handlers of the 2000 cottonseed crop would be issued on Sept. 7 and $54 million for producers of quota or additional peanuts who received a payment for the 2000 crop year on Sept. 10. Another $129 million in payments were to be mailed to tobacco producers on Sept. 18.

According to the budget resolution Congress passed last spring, the emergency assistance funding had to be distributed to farmers no later than Sept. 30 — the end of the government's fiscal year — or they could not be disbursed.

On the day the president signed the legislation, Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, was saying the Senate might revisit parts of the $7.5 billion assistance bill he wanted to pass when it returns from its August recess.

Sen. Harkin has said the 2001 Economic Assistance Act was “totally inadequate to meet the needs of our farmers.”

Many farmers received financing for the 2001 crop, based on the premise they would receive an additional AMTA payment at 1999 rates. Some analysts have said that the combination of low prices and lower AMTA payments could cause repayment problems for producers this fall.