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Stabenow says farm bill needed despite disaster amendment

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., co-sponsored an amendment on livestock and fruit disaster aid late Tuesday, but said in Senate floor speeches Wednesday and today that she would still work to pass a farm bill, and work on an extension bill could not be confirmed.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., wrote the original disaster aid amendment to be attached to the supplemental disaster assistance bill for the victims of Hurricane Sandy, but Stabenow, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, R-Mont., Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., co-sponsored it. The amendment would re-establish the disaster aid provisions in the 2008 farm bill for the fiscal year 2012.

Stabenow said in brief floor remarks that the disaster aid amendment did not negate the need to pass a new farm bill, and an aide said disaster aid needs to be extended on a permanent basis, along with passage of the Senate-passed farm bill.

“We are still working very hard to complete a farm bill, to have the House take action, but in the meantime we have disasters that have occurred, and this, these provisions are lifted directly from what we already passed in the farm bill that address what has happened in terms of livestock drought and fires assistance for fruit tree growers, and we will be speaking at a later time about it,” Stabenow said. “But these are essential to be included for thousands and thousands of farmers and ranchers across the country.”

Stabenow added today that there is “no way” she was going to allow a supplemental disaster assistance bill to move forward without offering a bill to help farmers who have suffered disasters this year.

But she added, “That does not negate the need to get a five-year farm bill done or a desire to do that or the fact that we are laser focused until the last moment we have available on getting that done.”

Both the disaster bill and the disaster provision in the farm bill would provide aid to late freezes in Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania that wiped out fruit crops.

Michigan cherry producers suffered a 98 percent loss, but have had to maintain their orchards all years, Stabenow noted.

“We give them some help because they spent the rest of the crop year this year having to pay to maintain the orchards and the trees, eating the costs and hoping the trees will bounce back next year,” she said. “It doesn’t cover all the loss, but some help to be able to stay in business.”

Stabenow also noted that the disaster provisions would help farmers whose pastures have been hit by drought

But prospects for the disaster aid amendment are uncertain.

Merkley’s amendment was laid aside, which means it’s unlikely to be considered in the final passage of the disaster bill, DTN reported. New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., were scrambling Tuesday to blunt criticism of the $60.4 billion federal Hurricane Sandy bill by Republicans, who have blasted some of the spending as pork, the New York Post reported.

Conservatives and Republicans have criticized the inclusion of items not designed for relief to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the Post said. Cuomo and Schumer defended the inclusion of other items, but Schumer said, “If they can find something that is not disaster related, we’ll take it out. Everything in this package is disaster related.”