NOMINATION OF JOHN ROBERTS -- (Senate - September 21, 2005)
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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise today to commend my colleague, the senior Senator from Illinois, Mr. Durbin, for his work in crafting this legislation, of which I am a cosponsor. This amendment would provide critically needed disaster relief to Illinois farmers who face significant financial jeopardy from crop losses due to this season's historic drought.
Illinois agriculture is experiencing one of the driest periods in the last century and certainly one of the most severe droughts in two decades. Illinois is the Nation's leading producer of corn and soybeans. However, U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA, reports show that more than half of the corn crop and almost a third of the soybean crop have been decimated by drought. Of the 102 counties in Illinois, 98 have reported crop damage due to the lack of rainfall.
In July, Senator Durbin and I asked the Secretary of Agriculture to declare the affected counties in Illinois an agriculture disaster area. I am pleased that President Bush granted our request to give our Illinois farmers some much-deserved relief, qualifying Illinois farmers for USDA assistance programs, including low-interest emergency loans.
While this action provided an important amount of economic assistance, the scope and severity of this year's drought requires that additional measures be taken. At the present time, most of northern and western Illinois remains in a severe or extreme drought. Much of eastern Illinois is classified as abnormally dry. This is particularly alarming because farmers are at a critical point in the growing season.
Moreover, the reduction in fuel refining capacity caused by Hurricane Katrina has resulted in Illinois farmers facing a sudden surge in unanticipated fuel costs on top of already escalating fuel prices. The disruption in Mississippi River traffic at gulf ports, where half of the Nation's grain exports are shipped for foreign markets, has spiked shipping costs for farm commodities transported by barge downriver. The threat of an aflatoxin outbreak that affects corn during times of crop stress and drought is also of particular concern in recent weeks; should this condition progress after harvest and storage, farmers may face additional financial consequences in the coming months.
I understand that the Senior Senator from Mississippi, Mr. Cochran, has made a commitment to address this issue in the next hurricane supplemental appropriations bill that is sent to Congress. Given that commitment, I support Senator Durbin's decision to withdraw the amendment, and I thank Senator Cochran for his cooperation.