House balks at Farm Bill as drought continues
Drought-like conditions continue to grip America’s breadbasket, with 54 percent of the nation’s pasture listed in poor to very poor condition. In the wake of this, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack held a media conference call July 23 to announce additional aid to America’s farmers and ranchers impacted by the drought. During the conference, Vilsack questioned the U.S. House of Representatives’ lack of deliberation on HR 6083, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act, aka the 2012 Farm Bill.
As Vilsack visited Iowa, he announced new efforts to assist producers experiencing the “most widespread drought in seven decades,” including changes in the Conservation Reserve Program, the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, the Wetland Reserve Program, and the Federal Crop Insurance Program. See “Drought assistance.”
During Vilsack’s closing remarks, he asked the U.S. House of Representatives to vote on the Farm Bill as soon as possible.
“There is nothing more important to Rural America, nothing more important to the producers, farmers, and ranchers of this country than action on this bill. As everyone knows, action on this bill could very well revive the disaster programs for livestock producers, which expired on Sept. 30th of last year. Those programs, along with assistance under the SURE [Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments] program, provided 400,000 payments of nearly $4 billion of assistance and help as a result of floods and fires and drought in the past.”
According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency website, disaster assistance has included:
•Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments (SURE) covered “crop losses due to natural disasters occurring through Sept. 30, 2011.”
•Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) provided “benefits to livestock producers for livestock deaths in excess of normal mortality caused by adverse weather ... before Oct. 1, 2011.” Losses included floods, wildfires, and extreme heat.
•Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) has provided “compensation to eligible livestock producers that have suffered grazing losses for covered livestock on land that is native or improved pastureland ... planted specifically for grazing. The grazing losses must be due to a qualifying drought.”
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Questioning the lack of action by the House, Vilsack said, “I don’t know of a single farmer who would take a recess if there was work to be done, or a vacation if there was work to be done in the field, and I’m sure that Congress, many members of Congress, feel the same way.”
During the question-and-answer session, Vilsack continued to stress the importance of helping the livestock sector.
“Let’s be clear,” Vilsack said, “extending the current 2008 Farm Bill will not revive the disaster programs. Because they have expired, it would take affirmative action to revive them, to actually pass them again.”
To a final question about why the House is not continuing the Farm Bill discussions, Vilsack responded that Speaker of the House John Boehner “has indicated his belief that crop insurance is all that’s necessary in terms of drought assistance at this point in time. You know, it leaves out all of the livestock producers in the country, which is literally hundreds of thousands of people,” he said. “So I don’t know what the motivation is, what the decision-making is. All I can tell you is that there is no more serious work to be done in the House of Representatives between now and the August recess or, for that matter, during the August recess or, for that matter, after the August recess for Rural America, for farmers, producers, and ranchers who are struggling in getting a Food, Farm, and Jobs Bill through the process, providing some degree of assistance and help during this very, very difficult time.”
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced July 23 the following assistance to aid farmers and ranchers:
•Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) -- For “additional acres under CRP to be used for haying or grazing under emergency conditions. ... The action July 23 will allow lands that are not yet classified as ‘under severe drought’ but that are ‘abnormally dry’ to be used for haying and grazing. ... Especially sensitive lands, such as wetlands, stream buffers, and rare habitats, will not be eligible.”
•Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) -- Allows farmers and ranchers “to modify current EQIP contracts to allow for prescribed grazing, livestock watering facilities, water conservation, and other conservation activities to address drought conditions. ... In the short term, funding will be targeted toward hardest hit drought areas.”
•Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) -- “Authorize haying and grazing of WRP easement areas in drought-affected areas where such haying and grazing is consistent with conservation of wildlife habitat and wetlands. ... For producers with land currently enrolled in WRP, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service has expedited its Compatible Use Authorization process to allow for haying and grazing.”
•Federal Crop Insurance Program -- The “USDA will encourage crop insurance companies to voluntarily forgo charging interest on unpaid crop insurance premiums for an extra 30 days, to Nov. 1, 2012, for spring crops.” Some penalties apply; delayed premium payments are permitted in some cases.
Source: July 23 USDA press release. For complete article, visit http://1.usa.gov/O0iJr9.