Senators from the Dakotas are pushing for a permanent program to pay farmers and ranchers who have suffered devastating crop losses.
North Dakota Sens. Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad, both Democrats, and South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune have co-sponsored a bill designed to become a part of comprehensive farm legislation this year. The bill would create a program that would automatically dole out dollars for significant farm losses in federally declared disaster counties.
“The farm bill does not nearly provide the help that is needed to keep family farmers on the land,” said Dorgan, the bill’s lead sponsor.
The senators have so far been unsuccessful in securing emergency dollars to help farmers and ranchers with losses incurred in 2005 and 2006. Parts of the Dakotas have been devastated by a record drought, while other areas have suffered losses due to flooding.
Thune said he and other farm-state lawmakers are tired of fighting annual battles to help farmers recover from weather-related hits.
“We are hoping this will provide some level of
predictability,” Thune said.
Critics have charged that the disaster aid is too expensive. But Thune said long-term planning makes more sense than ad hoc disaster aid bills.
“In the long run, I think it’s fiscally sound to plan for these things,” he said.
The bill would:
-Compensate agricultural producers in federally declared disaster counties and contiguous counties who lose more than 35 percent of their crop due to weather conditions. Those producers would be eligible for a payment of 65 percent of the crop price.
-Require producers to purchase crop insurance to be eligible, or, in the case of a noninsurable commodity, participate in the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.
-Compensate ranchers in designated disaster counties and contiguous counties for either grazing losses sustained due to natural disasters or cattle losses due to hurricanes, floods, wildfires, extreme heat or other weather conditions as determined by the Secretary of Agriculture.
Meanwhile, members of Congress are still trying to figure out the best way to fight for the 2005 and 2006 assistance in the new session.
The effort has been somewhat complicated by a Democratic decision to do away with separate spending bills for the 2006 budget year. Fewer “must-pass” pieces of legislation moving through Congress means fewer opportunities to attach disaster assistance.
“I don’t know if we’ll get everything we want, but I think we’ll get something,” Thune said.
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