Under an agreement reached by House and Senate appropriations conferees last weekend, $2.9 billion in agriculture disaster aid will be provided to growers who have experienced crop damages from recent hurricanes, drought, flooding, frost and other weather-related causes. The agriculture aid package was added to an emergency assistance bill for hurricane victims.
National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) President Leon Corzine says the provision may provide short-term relief for farmers who experienced crop losses due to adverse weather, but he added that reforms to the federal crop disaster program are still needed to address future disasters.
"Farmers in many parts of the country are seeing record crops this fall, but others have been hit hard by bad weather," he says. "This disaster aid will bring some welcome relief to those producers who have not had the record crops seen in other parts of the country. However, we believe it is important to continue to lobby Congress for reforms to the crop disaster program. There are inequities for crop insurance participants and assistance for insured growers with repetitive shallow losses. These inequities need to be fixed."
Growers in disaster-designated counties who lost more than 35% of their crop in either 2003, 2004 or 2005 are now eligible to receive disaster payments. Similar to the 2001-2002 Crop Disaster Program, the bill limits assistance to one crop year in coordination with crop insurance and salvaged crops. Assistance may be paid for up to 95% of the cropâ€™s value. Qualifying crop losses for the 2005 crop are limited to only those losses caused by a hurricane or tropical storm of the 2004 hurricane season.
Corzine notes that the Conservation Security Program will be capped at $6 billion in order to provide necessary funding for the disaster assistance package. He says NCGA does not support looting farm bill programs to support disaster assistance packages.
"It is unfortunate that Congress raided a program authorized in the last farm bill," he says. "We hope this is not a signal that further cuts may occur for other reasons."
Congress Daily reports that lawmakers, aides and lobbyists warn the offset could set a dangerous precedent for large-scale cuts in agriculture programs next year as part of the budget reconciliation package. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, was successful in getting a sense of the Senate resolution stating the funds will be reinstated during the omnibus appropriations process. Motives of a reelected Bush administration may not be near as friendly to farm states next year without the key electoral votes at stake, Congress Daily reports.