Disaster aid provisions undecided

ONE of the biggest disappointments from extending the 2008 farm bill was that Congress failed to deal with disaster assistance, which was included in the 2012 farm bill proposals and was sought by the agriculture industry.

Livestock producers especially were caught in the crosshairs after a devastating 2012, and row-crop producers went without the added assurance of crop insurance.

In the weeks ahead, there is some hope that those provisions could find their way into other bills, potentially one to help those who suffered harm from Hurricane Sandy.

Max Baucus (D., Mont.) told Montana's Billings Gazette that he would begin the year by working on a separate bill to address the livestock disaster programs that were left out of the farm bill extension.

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture designated 2,245 counties in 39 states, or 71% of the U.S., as disaster areas due to drought.

Collin Woodall, vice president of government affairs at the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn., added that more than 70% of cattle country remains in drought conditions.

Troy Dumler, an agricultural economist at Kansas State University, noted that there is a chance that Congress will still address livestock disaster aid early this year.

Both farm bill proposals out of the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee included significant improvements to and expansion of disaster aid.

In addition, the House passed a stand-alone disaster aid bill last fall, although it was never taken up by the Senate because of a desire to try to pass a full five-year farm bill.

Dumler said payments could end up being retroactive for 2012, but the fate of disaster assistance is all tied to further discussions about budgetary issues and sequestrations.

Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) criticized the farm bill extension that was included in the fiscal cliff deal because it didn't keep the previously debated commitment on disaster assistance.

Stabenow, along with House Agriculture Committee chair Frank Lucas (R., Okla.), proposed a tailored extension that would have ensured that livestock and fruit growers had the more robust disaster assistance in 2012 and 2013 that the Senate had approved earlier.

"I don't see agriculture being the priority it needs to be, either on disaster assistance (or) help for those who have been hit so hard by drought or by an early warmth and then a freeze in the orchards," Stabenow said on the Senate floor ahead of the fiscal cliff vote. "Where is the willingness to stand up and support farmers and ranchers across the country?"

The Senate passed its own bill during the 112th Congress to aid Hurricane Sandy victims, but again, agriculture was left out of that bill. Because a new Congress has been sworn in, any legislation will have to be reintroduced.

Volume:85 Issue:02

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