House Okays Drought Disaster Aid for Ranchers


WASHINGTON (Dow Jones) — The U.S. House of Representatives Thursday approved a $383 million drought assistance package in a 223 to 197 vote to help livestock producers who are struggling to feed their herds.

It isn’t clear whether the Senate will vote on the bill before Congress leaves Washington for a five-week recess at the end of Thursday.

The bill revives several programs that expired about a year ago which pay ranchers when they lose pastureland or animals due to drought. When severe heat and a lack of rain scorches the land that ranchers use to graze cattle, sheep, goats and other animals or produce hay, they are often forced to look for other, more expensive, sources of feed or slaughter the animals early.

Often livestock die on the farm from severe drought and the bill passed Thursday would also partially compensate ranchers for those losses. If cattle, chickens, turkeys, pigs or sheep die during a drought like the one gripping most of the U.S. now, the government would reimburse owners for 75{6b02cb02835b82b7f756ddf6717aaab7139b350de274ea97f5b53eb230607107} of the animal’s market value.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers said before the vote that they believe the drought assistance is desperately needed by livestock producers who need help feeding their animals during the most widespread drought in 25 years.

Most farm losses from the drought are covered by crop insurance, but livestock producers are not and need the help, said Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D..

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said he supported the drought bill, but also said it falls short of the kind of comprehensive disaster assistance needed to help other agriculture sectors like fruit and vegetable farmers.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said completing a full five-year farm bill remains important to him, but the drought legislation is a priority.

“Ranchers are in dire need,” Mr. Lucas said. “We have a drought…and I’m here to provide a solution.”

But Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., said he opposed the bill, calling it a “bovine bailout.”

While the bill offers some help to pay for chickens, turkeys and swine that die, it doesn’t help pay for the animals’ feed. John Burkel, vice chairman of the National Turkey Federation and a Minnesota turkey producer, said this week he will cut back on production this year due to the skyrocketing prices for feed.

Drought conditions throughout much of the country are worsening, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Tuesday. A third of the soybeans and half or the corn planted in the U.S. are rated to be in “very poor to poor” condition, according to USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey.

Most of the bill is dedicated to helping other livestock producers, but a section would also pay orchard owners for drought damage to trees, bushes and vines.

Most of the farmers who produce the nation’s corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, peanuts and other crops buy government-subsidized crop insurance and receive various direct subsidies.

Groups like the American Soybean Association and the national Corn Growers Association said they are pleased the House is acting to help livestock producers, but would prefer if lawmakers instead approved a new farm bill that contains similar drought assistance measures.

The House Agriculture Committee approved a new five-year, $500 billion farm bill in July, but the legislation has not yet been given a floor vote. Rep Peterson, the top Democrat on the committee, said this week he believes there is enough support in the House to pass it if a vote was allowed.

The full Senate did vote on its version of the farm bill, which also contains similar drought aid, in June and passed it.

Meanwhile, the USDA is using its authority to provide other forms of drought assistance. The agency said Wednesday it will open up 3.8 million acres of idled land for haying and grazing to help feed cattle as well as allow farmers more time to make payments on crop-insurance premiums.


Source:  Dow Jones

Posted by Haylie Shipp


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