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Texas farmer testifies before Senate ag panel

Brian Chandler took a short retreat from his dusty fields in Midland, Texas, last month to testify before the Senate Agriculture Committee on behalf of fellow agriculture producers who have suffered weather-related production losses.

The independent crop and livestock producer stressed the need for emergency supplemental disaster aid for farmers and ranchers who suffered losses in 2001 because of natural disasters.

Following last year's drought, Chandler's dry-land crops were decimated; and because the soil was so lacking in moisture, supplemental irrigation was not an option. As for his livestock operation, the usual grazing of small grain crops during the winter months was limited and 80 percent of his hay production was lost due to the lack of available moisture.

“From a market standpoint, my 2001 cash crops provided me a fraction of the expected total income,” Chandler told the Senate Committee. “Not only did I have fewer bushels to sell, but also crop prices have been severely depressed since 1998. And, production costs increased substantially last year, further reducing my income. Many of my cattle were marketed at lower than optimal weight levels at a time when many other livestock producers were forced into the same situation, which resulted in lower market receipts for my cattle.”

Unfortunately, Chandler was not alone. In 2001, drought conditions had a devastating effect on farmers and ranchers throughout most of the Plains states, while other natural disasters including floods, disease, and insect invasions cut across the entire nation. In Montana, 100 percent of the counties qualified as primary disaster areas. More than 90 percent of the counties in 10 other states also received either primary or contiguous disaster declarations, and there were 26 states with more than one-half of the counties designated.

Although the Senate attempted to address the situation in the farm bill with $2.4 billion in emergency disaster relief, the House of Representatives rejected the provision in conference and removed it from the final farm bill.

Chandler, a Texas Farmers Union member, delivered his comments on behalf of the National Farmers Union, which had advocated 2001 production loss assistance throughout the farm bill process. The organization's president, Dave Frederickson, said he hopes the Senate Agriculture Committee will create a vehicle to move the disaster aid package through Congress and to the farmers and ranchers who need it.

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