Dayton has also written Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, urging support for requests of a disaster declaration for Minnesota farmers who have been hurt by drought in 2003. Besides the low-interest loans such a declaration would provide to farmers, Dayton's legislation would make direct assistance available.

"We need to recognize farmers who have experienced loss," said Dayton. "My legislation will provide graduated assistance to farmers who under traditional disaster assistance would have received nothing.

"Also, this legislation would put money in farmer's pockets instead of forcing them to take on more debt."

Dayton's bill is different from traditional disaster assistance legislation because it would provide direct assistance, on a graduated scale, to farmers who have experienced crop losses. It would also substantially lower the threshold of loss required for farmers to qualify for assistance from 35 percent to 20 percent.

National Farmers Union leaders said they endorsed Dayton’s proposal wholeheartedly. Earlier, they wrote President Bush, complaining that the disaster legislation passed in early 2003 was inadequate.

“Without disaster legislation like Senator Dayton’s, many farmers and ranchers across the nation will suffer financial hardships due to conditions beyond their control,” said NFU President Dave Frederickson. “Current programs do not adequately address the economic losses for producers who have been hit with one or multiple years of natural disasters.” The agricultural disaster package included in the Fiscal Year 2003 Omnibus Appropriations Act enacted in January provided assistance for only one of the last two years, Frederickson noted.

Dayton’s legislation would allow crop and livestock producers who suffered production losses in 2001, 2002 or 2003 the opportunity to receive additional assistance for losses in years left out of the most recent disaster aid program.

“Drought, floods, insects and disease have devastated many agricultural regions of the nation for several years in a row and the effects of drought are rapidly spreading into the heartland of the United States,” Frederickson said.

Already in 2003, the agriculture secretary has designated more than 1,300 U.S. counties as agricultural disaster areas. Almost 82 percent of all counties were declared disasters in 2002 and more than 48 percent were disaster areas in 2001.

Frederickson explained that because many of these counties also were declared disaster areas during one or both of the previous two years, many producers who were eligible for disaster aid under the January 2003 law may not receive any assistance for two of the last three years if legislation similar to Dayton’s bill is not enacted.

“Our nation has experienced many weather-related losses recently,” Frederickson said. “America’s agriculture producers appreciate Senator Dayton’s leadership in providing real assistance, not just more loans, for those who feed and clothe the nation.”

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