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Scuse, other USDA officials to tour drought areas to push farm bill

Michael Scuse
Michael Scuse
In a signal of the high priority the Obama administration is placing on passage of a new farm bill that includes disaster assistance — and of the issue’s potential significance in the elections this fall — Agriculture Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Michael Scuse today canceled plans to travel to Brazil for negotiations on the cotton issue to begin a tour of Michigan, Ohio and Indiana to observe weather-related problems and encourage Congress to restore disaster assistance by passing the farm bill.

In a news release, USDA said that all three states had been affected by severe frost and freezes in the spring, with Indiana now experiencing increasing levels of drought.

In the weeks ahead, USDA said, other subcabinet leaders will travel to Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and other states to augment assistance from state-level USDA staff.

USDA officials will also provide guidance on the department’s existing disaster resources and remind producers to keep thorough records of losses. The department’s authority to operate the five disaster assistance programs authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill expired on Sept. 30, 2011, and Congress has not yet acted to restore these vital forms of assistance, a news release said.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
“Our hearts go out to all of those affected by this year’s disasters, from frost and freezes to fires and drought,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the release.

“Without a robust package of disaster assistance programs available to struggling farmers and ranchers, it is important that USDA officials visit rural communities and talk with producers not only about their current options but also about the need for proper planning through these difficult times,” the secretary said.

“And we remind Congress that as agriculture remains a bright spot in our nation’s economy, it is crucial that producers have a safety net in times of need, and that USDA has the tools to act quickly and deliver assistance when producers need it most.”

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative had announced that Scuse would travel with USTR Chief Agriculture Negotiator Islam Siddiqui to Brazil for negotiations on the continuing cotton dispute related to a World Trade Organization finding that the U.S. cotton program had caused damage to Brazilian cotton growers.

A Vilsack spokesman said that Deputy Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Darci Vetter would substitute for Scuse on the trip to Brazil Tuesday through Thursday.