Those waiting for disaster assistance promised by the Obama administration for 2009 crop losses at least have a definitive answer from USDA, but it falls far short of what has been talked about in recent weeks and months.
USDA will deliver up to $550 million in aid to producers of 2009 crops of rice, upland cotton, sweet potatoes and soybeans -- no other crops are cited in documents from USDA that were released this week by Senate Ag Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.). And that dollar amount is not what Lincoln had sought -- her original request was for around $2 billion and her last legislative attempt was for a $1.5 billion package.
The aid will be made to those growers who are in a county designated a primary disaster county due to high precipitation or moisture conditions in 2009. That translates in to 1,000 counties in 26 states.
While welcoming the aid, Lincoln said she was disappointed that the plan didn't cover more. I am disappointed the Administration did not develop a program that was closer to my original legislation which provided adequate assistance to all crops, from all regions of the country," Lincoln said. "Despite these hurdles, I was able to use my influence as Chairman to provide relief to farm families. In Arkansas, this program will ensure nearly 90% of all acres are eligible to receive assistance if they experienced a weather-related disaster. It will also help hundreds of poultry growers and fish farmers who are suffering due to circumstances beyond their control."
According to USDA, producers who certify to at least a 5% loss in 2009 will receive a payment based on a pre-determined payment rate multiplied by the actual planted (or prevented planted) acres that they have on file with FSA. Further, FSA will work up regulations to implement this program that applies average adjusted gross income eligibility requirements and payment limitations consistent with other disaster programs.
Payment rates per acre for eligible producers:
Besides the crop aid, the program will also provide up to $60 million in the form of a grant to states where poultry producers lost a contract due to the bankruptcy of an integrator in December of 2008. Poultry producers must have lost their contract with the bankrupt integrator between May 1, 2008, and July 1, 2010, and been unable to enter into a subsequent contract. A grant will be made to all States with impacted producers to help cover the needs of these producers.
- Long Grain Rice:$31.93
- Medium/Short Grain Rice $52.46
- Soybeans $15.62
- Sweet Potatoes $155.41
- Upland Cotton $17.70
In addition, the package will included up to $20 million (also in the form of a grant to states) for farm-raised aquaculture producers who experienced high feed costs in 2009. That aid will be allocated to states on a pro-rata basis, based on total benefits earned by all eligible 2008 aquaculture producers in each state under the 2008 AGP, authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
USDA said for both the aquaculture and poultry aid, average adjusted gross income and payment limitations consistent with other disaster programs will apply.
While Lincoln expressed disappointment at the aid package, others were more pointed in their reactions to the matter. House Ag Committee ranking Republican Frank Lucas (Okla.) said, "This disaster program clearly picks winners and losers with little justification. Rahm Emanuel and his Chicago-style politics have obviously overridden any common sense, legal precedent, or fiscal restraint at the Agriculture Department." The justification for this to be limited to flood or excessive rain declarations and to certain commodities amounts to rewarding farmers who happen to live in certain states and grow certain commodities." In addition, Lucas called for hearings to determine on the precedent this aid plan sets.
And Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group was even more pointed, labeling it nothing more than a political help thrown to Sen. Lincoln. "They really ought to report this expenditure to the Federal Election Commission," Cook stated.
But USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack denied any political favors were being done with the aid. He told reporters when announcing the aid that it was in the works "well before any conversation that may have taken place between [White House Chief of Staff] Rahm Emanuel and any member of Congress."
The reason, Vilsack said, was to address concerns about the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE) -- the disaster aid package included in the 2008 Farm Bill -- that had been expressed by growers in the Southeast United States. "The folks, particularly in the Southeast, felt that program (SURE) would not be particularly responsive to the needs of their producers," Vilsack said.