Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee on Agriculture, has included a $1.5 billion disaster package in the “American Workers, State, and Business Relief Act” bipartisan disaster package that will be considered on the Senate floor this week.

The bipartisan disaster package is based on legislation introduced by Lincoln and Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran last November and will provide assistance for farmers affected by heavy rains, floods and other weather-related disasters.

“Arkansas farmers are the backbone of our state’s economy, providing more than 270,000 jobs and contributing more than $9 billion each year to Arkansas’s economy,” said Lincoln. “We cannot afford to see our agriculture producers forced out of business. This will provide farmers the helping hand they need to get back on their feet and save jobs right here in Arkansas.”

The legislation would provide an estimated $1.1 billion in supplemental payments to producers who suffered crop losses in counties declared “primary” disaster areas by USDA. The payments will bridge the gap until 2009 Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE) payments are issued next fall.

Also included is $150 million to assist specialty crop producers, $75 million in emergency loans to poultry producers, $50 million in assistance for livestock producers, $25 million in aquaculture assistance and $42 million to aid first handlers of cottonseed.

While previous Senate efforts to secure agriculture disaster assistance have taken nearly three years to pass, Lincoln and Cochran have pushed for quick passage to ensure producers will receive relief in a timely manner.

“We are grateful to have Blanche Lincoln as our champion for Arkansas agriculture in Washington and thank her for fighting to get us this much-needed help. I look forward to working with her to deliver assistance to our aquaculture and specialty crop farmers and give the Arkansas economy the boost it needs,” said Dick Bell, Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture Dick Bell.

“We applaud Sen. Lincoln’s persistence on disaster support for America’s farmers. She understands the limitations of our existing farm programs, and has been relentless in helping other lawmakers understand the best way to ensure agricultural production remains viable and fruitful. Because of our nation’s farm support programs, the American farmer remains the most efficient in the world, and the result of that is the safest, most affordable food supply for our citizens,” said Randy Veach, president of Arkansas Farm Bureau.

“The Arkansas economy, both agricultural and non-agricultural, has been shaken by the combination of the 2009 recession and by the wettest year on record. As an agricultural state we are in desperate need of what this disaster package has to offer. The timing of this legislation has never been more critical,” said Joe Torian, Faulkner County rice, soybean and wheat farmer.

“Sen. Lincoln heard our cry for help and has answered with a disaster package that will help Arkansas farmers get back on their feet. We thank her for fighting for this much-needed assistance to us and giving us the certainty that is necessary to plan for the future,” said Dow Brantley, Arkansas rice and soybean farmer.

“This disaster package will be a tremendous help to Arkansas farmers who have suffered untold damages due to the unprecedented weather. Many farmers are in bad shape, and we appreciate Senator Lincoln fighting to get this assistance,” said Mike Booker, Monroe County rice, soybean, corn and wheat farmer.

“This disaster assistance is really needed. This is the worse crop that I have seen in my 35 years of farming, and I applaud Sen. Lincoln’s work to get us this help,” said Pearcy Morris, Dumas-area cotton and soybean farmer.

“With 22 inches of rain (last) October, this assistance is greatly needed and appreciated. We are fortunate to have Sen. Lincoln fighting for us as the Chairman of the Senate Ag Committee,” said Arkansas farmer Greg Day.

“Producers all across Arkansas have been impacted by the unprecedented weather disasters while trying to produce a crop in 2009. This package provided by Senator Lincoln will help keep our agricultural industry and the jobs associated with it viable,” said Arkansas farmer Gary Sebree.

“High feed costs in 2009 were devastating to aquaculture nationwide. This assistance will offset some of those costs and help the aquaculture industry recover,” said Ted McNulty, Director of Aquaculture Division of Arkansas Agriculture Department.

“Due to unprecedented rainfall from planting through harvest, producers through the entire Mississippi delta have suffered crop losses and higher operating costs. This assistance will be most welcome in helping producers move forward with the 2010 crops,” said Aldo Cingolani of First National Bank of McGehee.