Louisiana Senator Says State Declared Agricultural Disaster

October 8, 2008

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La., announced that Louisiana has been declared an agricultural disaster by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). On Sept. 10, Sen. Landrieu and the rest of the Louisiana delegation wrote a letter to USDA Secretary Ed Schafer backing Governor Jindal’s request to declare Louisiana an agricultural disaster because of devastation to farms from Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. The latest estimates for Louisiana’s lost agriculture revenue is nearly $1 billion, according to LSU’s AgCenter.

The USDA approved disaster declarations for 52 of the 64 parishes requested by Jindal’s administration, the Associated Press reported. The declaration makes many Louisiana farmers eligible for low-interest emergency loans.

Department secretary Edward Schafer said 12 parishes didn’t have production losses in amounts that would qualify them as disaster areas.

In a statement released by her office, Landrieu said eligible farmers will be able to apply for USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) loans and the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE) that was included in the 2008 Farm Bill and becomes available to farmers in late 2009.

“This disaster designation is critical to ensure our farmers have access to some help from the federal government,” Sen. Landrieu said. “But the aid it provides will take time, and I will not stop fighting for my bill that will immediately send $1.12 billion to farmers in disaster-impacted states. Congress has been too focused on helping Wall Street, and not focused enough on helping the heartland. I will work with my colleagues for quick passage of this bill in the ‘lame duck’ session of Congress after the election.”

The Farm Relief Act of 2008, authored by Sen. Landrieu and cosponsored by Senate Democrats and Republicans, would immediately infuse $1.12 billion in immediate relief for farmers in states impacted by the 2008 hurricanes and other natural disasters.

In early October, that bill was blocked by a single Senator: Tom Coburn, R-Okla, according to Landrieu. Though the bill would help Oklahoma’s nine disaster-impacted counties, Sen. Coburn said it would duplicate the SURE program. But a Department of Agriculture official last month testified before Sen. Landrieu’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Disaster Recovery Subcommittee that the program’s regulations have yet to be written. Farmers will not even be able to begin applying for aid until late next year.

In the Farm Bill passed earlier this year, Sen. Landrieu also included language to give Louisiana sweet potato producers the ability to qualify for the crop disaster assistance today’s declaration frees up. This language fixed a flawed accounting method that left sweet potato producers ineligible for disaster assistance.

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