There is no certainty that the Senate will ever consider it, but the House is on record passing a drought relief bill that is focused on livestock producers. With a 223 to 197 vote, the House members can proceed with their August recess by saying they responded to the needs of agriculture during the drought. While not everyone will agree, the politics of the day that prevented a vote on either a new 5-year Farm bill or a 1-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill was distilled into the drought offering that will be less than satisfactory to farmers the House was trying to appease.
Congress could not foresee 2012 at the time, but the 2008 Farm Bill was passed without any type of drought or disaster assistance for the final year of the legislation. But the House has voted to appropriate $383 million over 10 years to retroactively extend the livestock assistance programs that expired a year ago.
The legislation, House Resolution 6233, re-authorizes the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), the Livestock Forage Program (LFP), the Emergency Livestock Assistance Program (ELAP) and the Tree Assistance Program (TAP). To find the money for financing the assistance programs, the House cut $639 million from the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) for a net reduction of $256 million over 10 years.
While the vote was largely along party lines, Rep. Collin Peterson, (D-MN) the ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee bitterly voted in favor of the bill. He said the provisions in the bill were present in the 5-year Farm Bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee, and said he did not think the drought relief legislation would hurt the chances for the Congress to approve a new 5-year Farm Bill. Opponents contended the legislation was a bailout for livestock, just because the price of hay has gone up. And many of those negative comments came from members of the same party as the Chairman of the Ag Committee that introduced the measure for a vote.
Introducing the legislation, House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas said, “My priority remains to get a five-year farm bill on the books and put those policies in place, but the most pressing business before us is to provide disaster assistance to those producers impacted by the drought conditions who are currently exposed. It is as simple as that: there is a problem out there, let’s fix it.”
If the Senate adopts the measure, what would it do?
1) The Livestock Indemnity Program provides benefits to producers for livestock deaths in excess of normal mortality, caused by adverse weather. Claims must be made in the year of the death. USDA will make a payment equal to 75% of the average fair market value of the livestock.
2) The Livestock Forage Program provides compensation to eligible livestock producers that have suffered grazing losses for covered livestock on land that is native or improved pastureland with permanent vegetative cover or is planted specifically for grazing. The grazing losses must be due to a qualifying drought condition during the normal grazing period for the county. The pasture or range must be in a county rated by the Drought Monitor from severe drought to extreme drought.
3) The Emergency Assistance Program for livestock, honeybees, and farm-raised fish provide emergency assistance to eligible producers of livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish that have losses due to disease, adverse weather or other conditions, including losses due to blizzards and wildfires, as determined by the Secretary. It covers losses that were not covered by the SURE disaster program. Payment calculations for feed losses will be based on 60 percent of the producer’s actual cost.
The House has approved drought relief legislation focused on livestock producers as a temporary measure that does not replace the Farm Bill, according to the Ag Committee leadership. The measure re-authorizes three disaster assistance programs that expired a year ago. Those include the Livestock Indemnity Program, the Livestock Forage Program, and the Emergency Assistance Program.