|By JANE HOUIN
WASHINGTON, D.C — Despite the support of a majority of Senators, the U.S. Senate last week failed to pass legislation supporting farmers and ranchers left devastated by weather conditions. The amendment, offered by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D received 57 votes toward passage but was defeated on a procedural point of order supported by a small group of Senators.
The Conrad amendment would have provided more than $4.5 billion in agricultural disaster assistance for the 2005 and 2006 production years. It was backed by 41 Democrats and 16 Republicans who voted for the disaster assistance as well as another three senators who had announced their support but were absent for the vote because of their presidential campaign.
Conrad said that the amendment would have passed had those additional senators been present for the vote.
“We intent to bring this up until we prevail. We have enough votes to pass this bill,” said Conrad, who will be serving as chair of the Senate Budget Committee when the 110th Congress convenes in January. “Our farm and ranch families really face a desperate situation, but with the added strength from the elections, the next Congress will pass this bill.”
The legislation is co-sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., as well as leading farm-state Republicans such as Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas. The legislation has also been endorsed by 32 national agriculture groups, including the National Farmers Union.
“I am very disappointed in the outcome of this vote,” said Tom Buis, NFU president. “Farmers and ranchers all across the country have suffered devastating losses and this assistance would have provided a helping hand to see them through these difficult times.”
According to a fact sheet from Conrad’s office, the proposed amendment would cover production losses from both 2005 and 2006 and would require recipients to demonstrate at least a 35 percent production loss. Payment rates would be set at 45 percent for the loss of insured crops and 20 percent of non-insured crops. It also clarified quality loss provisions to apply actual market discounts seen by producers and set quality loss payments at 45 percent of the loss, multiplied by 65 percent of production.
The proposed legislation would also establish a Livestock Compensation Program to help cover increased feed expenses for producers in USDA-designated disaster counties and provide livestock indemnity payments for livestock losses due to natural disaster and disease, including anthrax.
“It is unfortunate that Congress has chosen to assist rural residents who were victims of hurricanes, while ignoring victims of other natural disasters such as drought and flooding. Regardless of what you call it, a disaster is a disaster,” Buis said. “NFU refuses to give up on this issue and will continue to pursue disaster assistance when the 110th Congress convenes in January.”
If passed, the legislation would also provide for optional direct payments. Program crop or dairy producers who elect not to receive production loss assistance for 2005 and/or 2006 will be eligible for supplemental direct payments. Rates would be 25 percent of the 2005 direct payment rate for program crops and 12˘ per hundredweight for MILC-eligible dairy production.
To be eligible producers would have to demonstrate a loss of net farm income for 2005 compared to 2004. Payments would be capped at $10,000 per entity, proportionate to the current payment limit for program crops, and would not be able to exceed demonstrated loss.
“Uncontrollable circumstances have placed farmers in a bind,” Buis said. “Congress has waited far too long to provide assistance to our country’s food and fiber producers, and I urge Senators to do the right thing.”
Other features of the proposed legislation include providing $100 million in economic assistance grants for small businesses which suffered material economic losses as a result of weather-related agricultural losses as well as $182 million in supplemental funding for conservation programs to aid in the recovery and rehabilitation of farm and grazing land damaged by natural disaster in 2005 and 2006.
Total cost of the proposal would be $4.8 billion.
“This disaster relief is aimed at providing an economic lifeline to sustain them through extended periods of loss, such as in 2005 and 2006,” Buis said. “It will certainly not make any producer whole.”
So far this year, more than 70 percent of U.S. counties have been declared disaster areas due to devastating weather conditions; nearly 80 percent of counties received disaster declarations in 2005.
This farm news was published in the Dec. 13, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.