For months Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., has been seeking $1.5 billion in disaster payments for her fellow Arkansas farmers and others around the country. It first appeared that when it wasn't passed by Congress after five attempts that her chances were gone, but President Barack Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel promised he'd find a way.
And USDA was able to round up the about half the funds to direct some extra assistance to Lincoln's state as well as a few select others. The USDA disaster aid, to be paid for out of USDA’s “Section 32” funds, includes $550 million in relief for weather related crop losses in 2009, $60 million in payments to producers who lost poultry contracts in the 2008 bankruptcy of Pilgrim’s Pride, and $20 million for the aquaculture industry who suffered high feed costs in 2009. Read a full summary of the disaster assistance.
Eligible commodities are only upland cotton, rice, soybeans and sweet potatoes. In addition, eligible counties are those Secretarially-designated primary disaster counties designated due to high precipitation or moisture conditions in 2009. Producers who certify to at least a 5% loss in 2009 will receive a payment based on a pre-determined payment rate multiplied by the actual planted (or prevented planted) acres that they have on file with FSA.
The American Soybean Association said it supported the efforts by Lincoln and Thad Cochran, R-Miss., to compensate soybean farmers in the mid-South region after receiving record rainfall last August. "The assistance will provide much-needed relief to farmers who will not benefit under the national disaster relief program (SURE)," said ASA President Rob Joslin.
SUREwas designed to be a permanent disaster program and prevent Congress from continually having to take up disaster programs after each disaster. Lincoln noted, "It has become clear that the permanent disaster program (the Supplemental Revenue Assistance program) works well for farmers in other regions, but fails the vast majority of producers in the South. Until we have a permanent disaster program that works for everyone, we must provide our farmers and ranchers with the support they need and deserve."
Politics at play?
Lincoln is in the fight for her life for reelection, after already barely squeaking by a victory in her Democrat primary. The latest polls show she is trailing GOP Rep. John Boozman, 51% to 34%.
In her statement announcing the aid she said she "made certain that producers who are eligible will receive this assistance in the coming weeks—not months or years as is too often the case." If this holds, aid would arrive before the November elections. But not everyone is happy about the ordeal.
More than 20 sorghum producers and industry leaders were in Washington, D.C., this week visiting with members of Congress and key leaders in legislative and regulatory arenas.
National Sorghum Producers delegates met with the staff of Lincoln. “NSP is very disappointed the package excludes grain sorghum, as well as crops that suffered losses due to drought in 2009,” said Past NSP President Toby Bostwick. “The proposal announced by USDA clearly picks both commodity and disaster winners and losers. It is bad policy and precedence.”
The ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee Frank Lucas of Oklahoma also had strong words to say of the way the disaster program came about.
"This disaster program clearly picks winners and losers with little justification. Rahm Emanuel and his Chicago-style politics have obviously overridden any common sense, legal precedent, or fiscal restraint at the Agriculture Department. The justification for this to be limited to flood or excessive rain declarations and to certain commodities amounts to rewarding farmers who happen to live in certain states and grow certain commodities," he said.
Lucas added he questioned from the beginning whether USDA had the legal authority to do this. He stated, "It also makes a complete mockery of the Secretary’s declaration to control spending. I call on Chairman Peterson to have immediate hearings to fully detail the precedent this sets.”