ANALYSIS - The US House of Representatives passed a $639 million, stand-alone livestock disaster bill Thursday (August 1) with a vote of 223 to 197, and did not finalize the pending Farm Bill before departing for their 5-week August recess, writes Sarah Mikesell, TheCropSite senior editor.
Avoiding consideration of the 2012 Farm Bill draft approved by the House Agriculture Committee, last week House leaders announced a coming vote on a one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill with additional disaster assistance.
The idea that House leaders would leave for break before finalizing the Farm Bill was widely opposed by Members and farm groups seeking a five-year bill. But in the end, the Farm Bill - which expires at the end of September - was set aside in favor of a disaster-only package.
The legislation, House Resolution 6233, re-authorises the Livestock Indemnity Programme (LIP), the Livestock Forage Programme (LFP), the Emergency Livestock Assistance Programme (ELAP) and the Tree Assistance Programme (TAP).
The disaster bill would compensate for 75 per cent of the value of livestock killed by drought and 60 per cent for feed costs for one to three months. The bill also includes $20 million for feed and water shortages for livestock, bees and farm-raised fish, as well as a program to help tree farmers recover losses.
Ultimately, the disaster bill was considered as stand-alone legislation under a closed rule, meaning there was no opportunity for amendment and it received limited time for debate.
The bill, which many say stands little chance of Senate approval, would cut $639 million from the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Disaster assistance is expected to cost $383 million of that total, with the remaining $256 million going to deficit reduction, permanently removed from farm programs.
The top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, said that he'd vote in favor of the livestock disaster relief, however, "this bill is a sad substitute for what is really needed – long-term farm policy."
"This measure will provide some assistance to a few livestock producers affected by drought conditions across much of the country," Peterson said during his House floor statement on August 2. "Providing assistance to livestock producers – primarily cattle and sheep – is necessary and important, but this is not a comprehensive disaster package. Dairy and specialty crop producers will be left hurting and there is no assistance for pork and poultry producers."
US-based National Association of Wheat Grower joined 11 other groups in a statement expressing displeasure with the disaster-only bill.
“We do not oppose passage of a disaster assistance bill, but note that almost identical provisions to retroactively extend these four programs are included in the Senate-passed Farm Bill and the bill reported by the House Agriculture Committee. Those measures would likely be included in any conference committee report,” the groups wrote.
During the 2012 crop year, USDA has designated 1,584 unduplicated counties across 32 states as disaster areas — 1,452 due to drought — making all qualified farm operators in the areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans.
The U.S. Drought Monitor indicates nearly 80 per cent of the country is in some kind of drought and 66 per cent of the nation's hay acreage is in an area experiencing drought, while approximately 73 per cent of the nation's cattle acreage is in an area experiencing drought.
USDA announced last week it has expanded emergency haying and grazing on approximately 3.8 million acres of conservation land to bring greater relief to livestock producers dealing with shortages of hay and pastureland.
Also, USDA noted that crop insurance companies have agreed to provide a short grace period for farmers on insurance premiums in 2012. As a result, farming families now have an extra 30 days to make payments without incurring interest penalties on unpaid premiums.