The nation’s largest commodity organizations sent letters to House members Thursday urging them to sign the discharge petition to bring emergency agricultural disaster assistance legislation to the House floor for a vote.

A total of 32 farm groups, ranging from the Alabama Peanut Producers Association to the National Cotton Council to Women Involved in Farm Economics (WIFE) signed the letter. The discharge petition, H.R. 998, requires 218 signatures, a majority of the House membership.

Reps. John Barrow, D-Ga., introduced the resolution after the House leadership refused to consider disaster assistance legislation written by Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., ranking minority member of the House Agriculture Committee. Barrow, Peterson spoke at a press conference announcing the introduction of the petition Tuesday.

The Senate has passed similar legislation sponsored by Sens. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Conrad Burns, R-Mont., as an amendment to an emergency supplemental appropriations bill. But House leaders removed the amendment from a House-Senate conference report after President Bush threatened to veto the measure.

“Over 66 percent of all U.S. counties have been declared primary or contiguous disaster areas by USDA this year,” the letter said. “These designations are on top of the nearly 80 percent of counties declared disasters in 2005. The economic impact of these disasters has a resounding effect on our rural communities.

“A disaster is a disaster – regardless if it comes from a hurricane, tornado, flood or drought. There are myriad agricultural disasters from coast to coast. Congress should not continue to fail to act.

Latest estimates put the cost of the Peterson bill at $6.5 billion.

If the petition receives 218 signatures, the House will be required to vote on Peterson’s agriculture disaster assistance bill, H.R. 5099, which includes a 30-percent supplemental direct payment for producers who receive direct payments from the farm bill.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has said the Peterson bill and similar legislation would provide assistance to farmers who did not experience weather-related crop losses in 2005 or 2006. He has said the administration believes Congress should wait until after the 2006 harvest to determine if emergency assistance is warranted.

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