The House is expected Thursday to address disaster assistance legislation by itself after scheduled attempts by the House Rules Committee to address a Farm Bill extension plus assistance were foiled Tuesday evening.
Farm groups largely opposed the proposed Farm Bill extension, but agree that some form of assistance is necessary, remaining steadfast in support for a five-year Farm Bill.
Proposed disaster legislation, dubbed the "Agricultural Disaster Assistance Act of 2012," re-authorizes the following: Livestock Indemnity Payments; the Livestock Forage Disaster Program; Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-raised Fish; and the Tree Assistance Program.
The bill would be effective for one year at an estimated cost of $383 million. Disaster assistance funds would come from the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, a resolution that many conservation groups are not pleased with.
"Although it is critically important that those ranchers who have been affected by the devastating drought get the disaster assistance that they need, this bill offsets the aid through steep, disproportionate cuts to the conservation title. We need Congress to act now to provide aid to ranchers in need, but this should not be a choice between robbing Peter and paying Paul," said Julie Sibbing, director of agriculture and forestry at the National Wildlife Federation.
Even though the American Farm Bureau doesn't oppose the disaster legislation, they noted that almost identical provisions are included in the Senate-passed Farm Bill and the version approved by the House Agriculture Committee. Joining in a coalition letter sent to congressional members Wednesday, AFBF explained that the disaster legislation isn't enough.
"The disaster assistance bill does not help hog or poultry producers and only provides limited assistance via the grazing program for the dairy industry. The bill does not help dairy producers who are not located in a designated disaster county with grazing assistance and does not address high feed prices for dairy, hog or poultry producers. Many producers of fruits and vegetables may not have crop insurance available to them as a risk management tool, and they too need some type of help, which this package does not address," the letter said.
The National Farmers Union also pointed out that the standalone disaster legislation could be extended if the full Farm Bill was conferenced and enacted. NFU joined AFBF in their letter to congress.
"This proposed disaster package is designed to make it appear as through Congress is taking action to help farmers in need before members go home to their districts this month," NFU President Roger Johnson said in a statement Wednesday. "However, this ill-considered action only holds farmers hostage with uncertainty, and does nothing to address specialty crops, dairy, commodities and other non-insured produce."
AFBF estimates that the legislation has the potential to cost more than $600 million. The coalition letter points out that a disaster bill would only provide assistance a month or two earlier than passing a full Farm Bill, and a full Farm Bill would negate its necessity.
Those signing the coalition letter included the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Soybean Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Barley Growers Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Farmers Union, National Milk Producers Federation, National Sunflower Association, United Fresh Produce Association, U.S. Canola Association, USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council, and Western Growers.