Today, Nebraska's Senator Ben Nelson urged the U.S. House of Representatives to put election year politics aside, and pass its Farm Bill so Congress can finish work on the deficit-reducing measure that also contains disaster aid sorely needed by Nebraska agriculture producers affected by the ongoing severe drought.
"Nebraska needs the Farm Bill now. Unfortunately, it's being held up by election year politics. It's discouraging that House leadership has said it may not bring the Farm Bill to the House floor for action until after the November elections, because the drought is now," said Senator Nelson. "Disaster programs from the 2008 Farm Bill have expired. Nebraska's ag producers are hurting. House Members need to put what's best for the country at the top of their legislative agenda and set aside their political agenda."
The U.S. Senate gave bipartisan approval to its five-year Farm Bill (the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012) on June 21, 2012. The House Agriculture Committee approved its version earlier this month, but action by the full House of Representatives has been stalled.
Climate experts are already calling the drought currently affecting the entire State of Nebraska along with more than half of the United States, the worst drought since the 1950's. On July 19, the University of Nebraska Drought Monitor reported that approximately 15,084 square miles of Nebraska territory were experiencing "abnormally to moderately dry" drought conditions, 58,402 square miles were experiencing "severely dry" drought, and nearly 3,868 square miles were experiencing an "extremely dry" drought. Drought conditions countrywide are as follows: 53.17% of the country experiences "moderate" drought conditions, 25.32% with "severe or worse" drought conditions, and 11.32% with "extreme or worse" drought conditions.
Nelson noted far-reaching consequences of the drought for the Midwest, and warned that prolonging passage of the Farm Bill risks nationwide food inflation.
"Without the help of the drought assistance provisions tied up in the Farm Bill, this "bad' situation could quickly get much, much worse," said Nelson. "As conditions continue to decline, the impacts will shift from Nebraska's farmers and livestock producers to our nation's consumers.
"Corn is failing to pollinate, and the fate of the corn crop is far-reaching. A bad harvest means less supply. That means higher prices for commodities and higher prices at the supermarket.
"The longer the House waits to pass the Farm Bill, the closer America gets to higher food prices. Nebraska's farmers and producers could really use a bit of assistance and support getting through this historical drought, and help buffer prices for consumers. The House needs to pass the Farm Bill, pronto."
In response to the growing crisis, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has announced significant improvements to disaster relief programs. The reforms streamlined the process for Secretarial disaster designations, reduced the emergency loan interest rate from 3.75 to 2.24, and reduced the grazing fee for disaster-hit counties authorized to use Conservation Reserve Program lands.
Senator Nelson sent a letter to Secretary Vilsack, noting Nelson's appreciation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) swiftly-implemented drought aid measures, and encouraging continued aid for Nebraska's farmers and livestock producers during the drought.
The text of the letter is as follows:
July 20, 2012
The Honorable Thomas J. Vilsack, Secretary
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, DC 20250-0002
Dear Mr. Secretary:
With half the United States experiencing moderate droughts or worse, in the largest percentage experienced since 1956 -- and with my own home state of Nebraska entirely under the grip of this drought -- I write to you today to encourage the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to use all the tools at its disposal to help farmers and livestock producers make it through these difficult conditions.
As you are aware, the State of Nebraska has declared a state of emergency due to the current drought conditions. I appreciate how swiftly your agency has acted to authorize emergency use of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres in 69 Nebraska counties, as well as the USDA's implementation of other relief measures, which have reduced the processing time for counties to receive Secretarial disaster designations, lowered interest rates for emergency loans in affected counties, and decreased payment reductions from 25 percent to 10 percent on CRP lands qualifying for emergency use in 2012.
Unfortunately, with high temperatures likely to continue throughout the month and little to no rain in the forecast, the intensity of the drought across my home state is only likely to expand from current Secretarial disaster designations. As such, I strongly urge your department to actively work with the Nebraska Farm Service Agency Committee on any further requests or recommendations brought before the USDA to ensure that all appropriate relief is made available to Nebraska producers in a timely and effective manner.
Mr. Secretary, thank you for your consideration of this request. I appreciate the expediency with which you have acted in providing relief to our producers throughout this difficult growing season, and I look forward to continue working with you and the USDA to make sure our farmers and ranchers continue to receive all necessary assistance.
E. Benjamin Nelson
United States Senator