Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced that USDA will make $752 million available from Section 32 funding for cattle, sheep and buffalo producers in counties that have been designated disaster areas due to drought in 2001 and 2002.

In a Sept. 19 press conference, Secretary Veneman, Rep. John Thune, R-S.D., and other House members and senators said the funding will be aimed at helping producers “bridge the gap” until Congress can hammer out a more comprehensive disaster assistance package.

Signup for the program, the Livestock Compensation Program, will begin Oct. 1 with payments made soon thereafter, according to the secretary.

“This program will provide immediate assistance to producers who need it the most,” said Veneman. “The Bush administration continues to use every available tool to provide disaster assistance to America's farmers and ranchers who have been struck by severe drought conditions.

“This program will particularly help livestock producers who have very few risk management tools available to help during these difficult times.”

The secretary said that the cash assistance will be made available statewide in Arizona, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Carolina and Utah.

Assistance will also be available in specified counties in 30 other drought-affected states. Those include: California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming.

The funding for the program will come from Section 32, a permanent appropriation that since 1935 has earmarked the equivalent of 30 percent of annual customs receipts to support the U.S. agriculture sector.

Payments will be based on standard feed consumption data for each eligible type of livestock. The payment rate is $18 per animal consuming unit, which is indexed against beef cattle. Types of livestock adjusted by these factors are:

Beef cows $18.00/head
Dairy cows $31.50/head
Stockers $13.50/head
Buffalo and beefalo $18.00/head
Sheep $4.50/head

The USDA press release announcing the funds noted that Rep. Thune, who is locked in a bitter election battle with Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., had requested such a program in a Sept. 12 letter to the secretary.

After Thune wrote his letter, but before USDA could respond, Johnson and Senate Majority Leader and fellow South Dakotan Tom Daschle wrote a letter to President Bush requesting that USDA use the Section 32 funds for drought assistance to crop and livestock producers.

Also joining Veneman in the tele-conference were Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., and Reps. Jerry Moran, R-Kans., Tom Osborne, R-Neb., and Frank Lucas, R-Okla.

The Livestock Compensation Program will be in addition to other programs available to eligible producers that to date total $1.3 billion.

On Aug. 12, Secretary Veneman authorized a $150 million feed assistance program to help cow-calf operators in Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota.

On Sept. 9, Veneman authorized emergency haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres nationally to provide relief for farmers and ranchers, which is valued at $100 million. USDA has provided some $54 million for the Emergency Conservation Program to help producers rehabilitate farmlands damaged by natural disasters.

The Federal Crop Insurance program provides indemnities for production and revenue losses; and the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (financial assistance to eligible producers affected by natural disasters) is expected to provide $250 million. The Emergency Loan Program makes farmers and ranchers immediately eligible for USDA low interest emergency (EM) loans in agricultural disaster areas.

For more information about this program and other drought- and weather-related information, visit USDA's Website at http://www.usda.gov.