Nearly $800M Going to Drought Aid
Hottest July since the Dust Bowl in 1936
LIBBY QUAID / AP 29aug2006
feel hotter to me.
WASHINGTON — The government promised nearly $800 million in aid Tuesday to ranchers and farmers stricken by a near-record drought.
Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced the aid while visiting a ranch in South Dakota, one of the states hardest hit by drought and heat. Farmers are struggling in the Plains, the South and, to a lesser degree, the Upper Midwest.
"As I walked a pasture where grass should be high and growing and cattle grazing, I saw only dirt," Johanns told reporters by telephone. "In western Plains states, livestock producers are making very tough choices because of lack of green pastures."
The secretary said 64 percent of the nation's beef cows and breeding stock are in drought-stricken areas and many ranchers are being forced to cull their herds. Drought is also stressing fields of cotton, wheat, sorghum, peanuts and other crops.
Last month was the hottest July since the Dust Bowl in 1936. Drought has approached records in many parts of the country, where conditions have been driest from May through June since 1988.
The drought peaked two or three weeks ago, Agriculture Department meteorologist Brad Rippey said. Some places have gotten rain recently, but not enough.
"The rains came too late for summer crops," Rippey said. "It takes pastures and rangeland a long time to recover from such a serious summer of heat and drought. So we're just now beginning to see some of the pastures to green back up a little."
Johanns outlined the $780 million in drought aid:
-$50 million in block grants for hard-hit livestock producers. States will distribute the money to ranchers in counties with "extreme" or "exceptional" conditions recognized by the national Drought Monitor.
-$18 million in emergency conservation funds to rehabilitate farmland in 27 states.
-$11 million from the grassland conservation program for grazing lands in 14 states.
-The department would accelerate $700 million in planned payments to cotton, grain sorghum and peanut farmers.
The aid is on top of $4 billion in crop insurance the government expects to pay out this year.
The administration has resisted a separate $4 billion drought-aid plan in Congress because it would go only to those who already get government subsidies, about four in 10 farmers. House leaders and President Bush have opposed the aid, but lawmakers in June added the aid to a farm spending bill that is still pending in the Senate.
The new drought aid wasn't enough to satisfy lawmakers and farm groups wanting more. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., said the block grants and conservation money amount to 2 percent of the Senate proposal.
"This plan is all hat and no cattle," said Johnson, who was in South Dakota with Johanns. "While I appreciate that the White House finally recognizes the drought as a disaster, this plan leaves producers empty-handed."
The National Association of Wheat Growers said the plan would provide uneven relief at best. The payments that would be accelerated come from a program that hasn't paid wheat farmers since 2002, said association president Dale Schuler, a wheat farmer in Carter, Mont.
"A much broader, more comprehensive package is needed now," Schuler said.
Some were happy with the aid. Republican Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming said that with the extra help, "Wyoming will pull through and come out of this drought on top and better off than when we started."
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association called the aid a good start.
"Today's announcement is a good sign that our nation's policymakers are sensitive to the challenges being faced by our ag producers," said NCBA official Jason Jordan.
source: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/1151AP_Drought_Farmers.html 29aug2006
U.S. Plains Withering in Drought
BISMARCK, S.D., Aug. 29 (UPI) — Five U.S. Plains states are experiencing a drought that has been setting records, decimating crops and careers for ranchers, The New York Times reports.
The drought affecting North and South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska and Wyoming is the result of several years of dry conditions and a winter with little snow, climatologists with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln told the newspaper.
South Dakota Gov. Michael Rounds has requested 51 of the state's 66 counties be designated a federal agricultural disaster area, as sunflower, corn and pasture grasses have withered and died.
Steve Noyes, deputy director at the South Dakota field office of the government's National Agricultural Statistics Service, said the winter wheat crop had shrunk by 43 percent from last year's; alfalfa hay is expected to be down by 35 percent; and 22 percent of pasture land is deemed "very short."
However, some farmers in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio are reporting a respectable growing season, the report said.
source: http://www.upi.com/NewsTrack/view.php?StoryID=20060829-085252-2707r 29aug2006