Efforts to pass legislation to help farmers hurt by last year's floods, droughts, hurricanes and high energy prices appear to be gaining ground after Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., introduced new disaster relief legislation in the House.
The Peterson measure is similar to an amendment to a supplemental appropriations bill passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee April 4. The supplemental bill also contains funding for the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina relief.
“We are pursuing every possible way to get help out there to farmers and ranchers who have struggled to recover from the natural disasters that hit our rural communities hard in 2005,” said Peterson. “Farmers have waited long enough, and they need this relief so they can get back on their feet.”
Peterson, the ranking minority member on the House Agriculture Committee, said he hopes the third time is a charm for the legislation, which he first introduced as an amendment to the budget reconciliation bill in the House Agriculture Committee last fall.
Another measure, an amendment to the Iraq war supplemental appropriations bill offered last month by Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark., was also defeated on a 34-27 party line vote in the House Appropriations Committee. (Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., was the only Republican who voted for the amendment.)
Despite the setbacks, Peterson said he and other congressmen have continued trying to find a way to pass the legislation. “Agricultural disasters do not fall along party lines, and we need to work together to get help out to farmers and ranchers now — however we can get it,” he said.
USDA has announced several programs to provide assistance to farmers in Louisiana and Mississippi who were in the paths of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But critics have said those programs will deliver too little aid too late.
And they do nothing to help farmers in other states who suffered losses from floods, droughts, the after-affects of the Katrina and Rita and other hurricanes and high fuel prices resulting from the storms. Many Mid-South growers say the 2005 crop was their most expensive ever.
“Rep. Peterson's legislation will help mitigate the economic impact Mother Nature had on producers last year,” said Tom Buis, National Farmers Union president. “The fact that disaster assistance has bipartisan support in the House and Senate shows this is a serious concern that needs to be addressed to help farmers deal with circumstances beyond their control.”
“North Dakota's farmers and ranchers have suffered from a wave of losses — rain, frost, floods and even anthrax,” said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who drafted the disaster relief amendment that was passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee. “Every single county in North Dakota was designated a primary disaster county last year.”
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-S.D., introduced Conrad's bill — the Emergency Agricultural Disaster Assistance Act of 2006 — as an amendment to the supplemental bill in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
But it would not have passed without the support of Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.
The supplemental bill could be taken up by the full Senate after it returns from Easter recess. If it passes, it will have to be reconciled with the House version, which does not include disaster relief language.
The Senate and Peterson bills both would provide payments to farmers who experienced at least a 35 percent production loss due to weather in 2005.
The payment rate would be set at 50 percent of the established price for the crop. The 95 percent crop value cap and deduction for crop insurance indemnities would be removed.
State Farm Service Agency committees would establish parameters for quality loss assistance based on local conditions. FSA would make payments equal to 50 percent of the market loss.
All producers who received a direct payment for their 2005 crops would also receive a supplemental direct payment equal to 30 percent of the direct payment paid for the 2005 crop under the provisions of the 2002 farm bill. Both bills would provide funds for FSA to hire additional county office employees to handle applications for the program.