Four hurricanes in six weeks greatly have increased the need for assistance to farmers and cattlemen in the Southeast, so the National Cattlemen's Beef Association has established a permanent Disaster Relief Fund.  Money and products collected through this effort will be sent to the local state cattlemen's associations to ensure the most efficient distribution. The fund will be earmarked for cattlemen in areas that qualify for disaster assistance under federal guidelines. 

"Today, the urgent need is in Florida and Alabama, but next year there could be forest fires in Montana or drought in the Midwest.  By establishing this fund, we'll have resources and the means in place to help producers when they need it," says Jim McAdams, NCBA president-elect.           

NCBA organized a relief effort for Florida following Hurricane Charley, the first hurricane to hit this season. To date, about $50,000 in donated materials, services and money have been received and forwarded to Florida for distribution.

Individuals who wish to contribute to the NCBA Disaster Relief Fund can call 1-866-BEEF-USA for information.  Donations also can be sent to NCBA Disaster Relief Fund, c/o NCBA, P.O. Box 3469, Englewood, CO  80155.

"When you get blown away, the need for help is pretty immediate," says Dr. Billy Powell, executive vice president of the Alabama Cattlemen's Association. "Hurricane Ivan hit the Gulf Coast, moved inland and dropped lots of rain, went back through Florida and then over to Texas. It was kind of like a Stephen King novel."

Powell says that in 12 counties already declared 100 percent disaster areas, about 4,200 Alabama cattlemen were hit by Hurricane Ivan, and the damage extends well beyond that area. As in Florida, fences are down everywhere, buildings are destroyed and material costs to replace them have skyrocketed.

Jim Handley, executive vice president of the Florida Cattlemen's Association, calls the situation there "Tough.  There's a world of water. In places, you can't even get a truck in to load calves." He says that some of the auction barns hit in the first storms are reopening, but the most pressing need is for the federal government to expedite disaster relief.

NCBA staff in Washington, D.C., have been working with the congressional delegations from the affected states on the issue. In addition to finding funds, it is important to identify the programs through which they will be distributed. NCBA will establish a hotline for producers seeking information about relief efforts once those programs are identified.

Sept. 27 President Bush offered a supplemental funding bill that included $400 million specifically for disaster relief for agriculture in Florida and Alabama.  Florida Sens. Bob Graham and Bill Nelson are seeking $700 million in another bill.

"The impact from these storms will be felt for months," says McAdams. "Besides replacing the immediate losses of buildings, crops and livestock, producers will have to contend with pasture loss from 30 or more days of rain.  That's going to lower shipping weights, body-condition scores and that's going to raise feed costs. 

"While we work with the federal government to see what kind of disaster relief is available, this fund will help supply some relief immediately at the time of need."