Policy Journal: Disaster Money Finally Set to Go

October 4, 2010 05:20 AM

FJ 070 F10382Long-promised aid for 2009 crop losses is finally ready from USDA, but the amount the department will pay out is smaller than many expected.

Senate Ag Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) announced that USDA will offer up to $550 million in payments to 2009 crop producers of upland cotton, rice, sweet potatoes and soybeans that suffered at least a 5% loss. The lack of corn and wheat in the mix is one reason the total amount is a far cry from where Lincoln started—she originally sought around $2 billion in disaster payments and later scaled the request back to $1.5 billion.

Eligible producers are those in counties that were declared a primary disaster county by the Secretary of Agriculture due to “high precipitation or moisture conditions.” That means farmers in 1,000 counties in 26 states are eligible for the payments.

The aid payments will be made on a per-acre basis by crop type at a predetermined rate: long grain rice, $31.93; medium/short grain rice, $52.46; soybeans, $15.62; sweet potatoes, $155.41; and upland cotton, $17.70.

Also included is $60 million in help for poultry producers who lost contracts due to the bankruptcy of an integrator and $20 million for aquaculture producers affected by high feed costs in 2009.

Lincoln said she was disappointed the total wasn’t higher; others took issue with how limited the effort was. Ken Cook, head of the Environmental Working Group, charged that the aid was a political gift meant to help Lincoln’s reelection bid. (Lincoln squeaked through a runoff to win her state’s Democratic primary.)

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack denied that the effort was politically motivated, saying the aid plan had been worked on for some time.

Whether the timing is political or not, at least the aid is ready to be delivered.

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