In a mid-January letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln continued to push for disaster assistance for farmers impacted by severe storms in 2008.

Similarly, in a letter to Barack Obama, North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad and Montana Sen. Max Baucus called on the incoming administration to take quick and decisive action to improve and implement the standing disaster provision in last year’s farm bill.

“After all the work that went in to securing the disaster program in the farm bill, we want to ensure that the program will work as it was intended,” Conrad wrote. “By addressing these issues before the program is implemented, we can better insure that only those producers who suffered significant weather-related losses will receive disaster assistance.”

Last year, Lincoln cosponsored legislation introduced by Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, which would provide emergency assistance to the nation’s farmers who suffered crop losses from a natural disaster or any related condition in 2008.

In her missive to Reid, Lincoln called for the emergency agriculture assistance’s inclusion in the economic recovery package Congress is expected to consider early this year. Among its contents:

“As you know, agriculture is the economic engine of many rural communities and that is true across Arkansas. Aquaculture, row crop and livestock producers in my state have been confronted with tremendous challenges last year.

“Last year farmers’ hopes for a bountiful crop were especially high given favorable prices. Unfortunately, for some, crops were destroyed by natural disasters. Arkansas farmers faced severe flooding in the spring, which destroyed already planted crops or caused delays in planting. Hurricane Gustav’s and Ike’s paths through parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Arkansas devastated a number of producers and their 2008 crops. Midwestern states, like Iowa and others, faced similar circumstances but benefited from additional disaster assistance included in last year’s tax extenders package passed in September. Arkansas, however, was not a beneficiary of the majority of those programs…

“In Arkansas, our aquaculture producers have been pummeled with the doubling of feed costs, coupled with a flood of imported fish. The result has been the loss of thousands of jobs in the Delta, one of the poorest, most underserved areas of our country. Conservative estimates place the number of lost jobs at 1,443 this past year. Sadly, the trend has only continued, with more acres of aquaculture farming falling out of production. Without a minimal investment to provide producers with some support, we can expect further impoverishment in the Delta at a time when help is needed the most.

“I would also like to highlight the potential to help provide a boost to agriculture through an injection of funds into USDA Title IX energy programs of the 2008 farm bill. Our energy independence is increasingly dependent upon the development of sustainable energy solutions in rural America. Robust funding of 2008 farm bill energy programs would provide a much needed short-term boost to rural America in the form of good, well paying jobs. It will also help lay the foundation for a new clean energy economy that will continue to produce jobs in rural America. The farm bill currently provides approximately $1.2 billion in mandated funding for Title IX energy programs from 2009 to 2012. We hope that the economic stimulus legislation will substantially increase the mandatory funding that is available for these programs.”

In their joint letter to Obama, Conrad and Baucus laid out a series of farm bill implementation concerns. Among them:

Livestock Forage Program (LFP) & Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP)

“These two programs were based on prior programs administered by USDA. It is our understanding that regulations for them are all but complete. Unfortunately, the department appears to be waiting to resolve issues with other Supplemental Disaster Assistance Program (SDAP) programs before moving forward with these important livestock measures. Ranchers who faced a serious drought last year can’t wait for USDA to resolve all issues in other disaster programs before moving forward to desperately needed livestock assistance. We would encourage you to move forward on these programs by announcing regulations immediately.”

Livestock Forage Program (LFP)

“This program was designed to discourage overgrazing of grassland resources by limiting payment to the grazing capacity of the land. In many circumstances, however, USDA has helped producers increase carrying capacity of tracts while improving the resource through intensive grazing systems and improved water distribution. We would suggest USDA recognize the increased carrying capacity of improved management practices as certified by the NRCS.

Secretary of Agriculture Disaster Declarations

“To be eligible for Supplemental Revenue (SURE) Assistance Program, producers must be located in or contiguous to Secretarial designated disaster counties. It is imperative that USDA not change standards for Secretarial Disaster Designations in an effort to restrict program availability. We ask for your support to maintain the designation processes in place when the 2008 farm bill was approved.”

Supplemental Revenue (SURE) Assistance

“This program is the heart of the disaster assistance program for crop producers across the country. In the process of drafting final regulations, we would appreciate being briefed on decisions to avoid potential implementation problems.”

Quality Loss and Excess Moisture

“The SURE Assistance Program has specific provisions to deal with quality losses and excess moisture conditions that are not presently being addressed by crop insurance. We are very concerned that USDA adopt program regulations that effectively address the quality loss issues so important to our states.”

Advanced disaster payment authority

“We realize that technology issues at USDA do not make this an option for losses incurred during this crop year, and possibly even next year. For future crop years we think it is important that USDA have the flexibility to make advanced SURE payments when extreme loss situations warrant immediate response.”