The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Vilsack: Safety net needed despite budget concerns


Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a variety disaster assistance programs for farmers and ranchers hit by floods, drought and tornadoes, but also said the need for disaster declarations around the country has shown the importance of maintaining a safety net for farm producers even in the midst of federal budget problems.

“There is no question we are going to need a strong safety net for America’s producers,” Vilsack said in a telephone call to reporters. He added that President Barack Obama is likely to have more to say on the need for the safety net when he tours the Midwest next week.

But Vilsack also acknowledged that while Congress has often passed ad hoc disaster aid in the past, that is unlikely this year due to the existence of the permanent disaster aid program in the 2008 farm bill and concerns about the budget.

Even without the additional money that might come from a special ad hoc disaster budget, Vilsack said, “At USDA, we are working tirelessly to get assistance to folks who need it and are searching for flexibility in our programs to help farmers and ranchers in these difficult times. We will continue to listen to producers’ concerns and, whenever possible, offer assistance to help put people on the road to recovery as quickly as possible.”

Vilsack announced that emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program land, which is usually allowed only until Sept. 30, will be allowed until Oct. 31 in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas without an additional payment reduction.

He also said that the Farm Service Agency will also allow producers nationwide to use harvested hay from expiring CRP acres when those acres are being prepared for fall seeded crops.

Before this modification, all mechanically harvested hay was required to be destroyed. This change enables livestock producers to feed the hay that is mechanically harvested to their own livestock or to sell or donate hay.

Rental payments will be reduced by 25 percent for those utilizing this option. Vilsack also noted that this change regarding hay from expiring CRP acres is a permanent change in USDA policy.

Vilsack said that USDA has already:
  • Issued disaster designations for 547 counties in 30 states
  • Made $693 million in indemnity payments to help disaster recovery, including more than $520 million to those affected by drought and $88 million to those affected by flooding.
  • Paid livestock producers affected by the drought through the Livestock Forage Program — $114 million nationwide and more than $50 million in Texas, $24 million in Oklahoma, and $11 million in New Mexico.
  • Offered more than $30 million in emergency loans to help about 280 producers recover from production and physical losses due to disaster.
  • Provided nearly $149 million in Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to more than 1.1 million individuals in 466,080 households in 11 states.
  • Made available about $27 million in financial and technical assistance to help 25 states restore damaged and flooded land by assisting with debris removal and other repairs.