Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture Nutrition and Forestry, today said that last year's historic drought, which parched the nation and affected more square miles since the end of the Dust Bowl era in 1939, has taken a devastating toll on American agriculture, underscoring the need to pass critical disaster assistance provisions and a new five-year farm bill. In addition to a historic drought that devastated corn and soybean yields in the Midwest and Plains, the drought also depleted cattle herd inventories and dealt a massive blow to beef producers. An unseasonably warm winter followed by a series of freezes also destroyed fruit harvests in the Midwest and Western U.S., further dampening the country's economic recovery.
"Thanks to our successful crop insurance program, many farmers will be able to recover from their losses," Chairwoman Stabenow said at the Committee's first hearing of the 113th Congress. "For those farmers who didn't have access to crop insurance, or who relied on risk management tools that would have been included in the Farm Bill, the future is less certain."
Chairwoman Stabenow noted that the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan five-year Farm Bill last summer, but the House failed to pass its own version, paving the way for an extension of 2008 farm policy that continued forcing taxpayers to foot the bill for the direct payment subsidy program that pays farmers that are already doing well, while leaving many others wiped out by weather disaster without access to any assistance.
"We learned last week that our cattle herd inventories are the lowest in over six decades, which has had broad ranging impacts including job losses in rural communities as processing facilities and feedlots idle," Stabenow said. "Row crop producers that participate in the crop insurance program will not only get insurance payments, but some will continue to receive direct payment subsidies as well. Meanwhile, livestock producers and specialty crop growers who suffered substantial losses didn't get any help."
Joe Glauber, Chief Economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, testified that while the federal crop insurance program operated as intended by helping major crop producers to remain buoyant despite the severe weather, the lack of assistance for ranchers and specialty crop producers, who don't have access to crop insurance, has been devastating.
Additional witnesses included Dr. Roger Pulwarty, Director of the National Integrated Drought Information System at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Leon LaSalle, Rancher, Havre, MT; Anngie Steinbarger, Farmer, Edinburgh, IN; and Jeff Send, Cherry Farmer, Leelanau, MI
An archived webcast of the hearing can be accessed on the Senate Agriculture Committee's website at http://ag.senate.gov.