Excessive Rains Prompt Cochran & Wicker to Offer Bill to Give Direct Disaster Aid to Farmers with Waterlogged Crops

Significant Crop Losses Recorded Throughout the Mid-South as Rainy Fall Ruins Harvests

November 20, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) today introduced bipartisan legislation to offer direct and timely disaster assistance to farmers throughout the nation who are experiencing significant crop losses due to excessive rainfall this fall.

The crop disaster legislation is intended to assist farmers who have been unable to harvest crops because of excessive rain since early September.  Some areas of the Mississippi Delta have received more than 15 inches of rainfall above normal.  Similarly wet conditions have been reported in parts of the Midwest.  The extreme precipitation has ruined crops and created field conditions unfavorable for harvesting.  The bill would also offer aid to livestock producers.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) is an original cosponsor to the measure that would provide additional Direct Payment assistance to producers in counties nationwide declared “primary” disaster areas by the USDA as of Nov. 17, 2009.

“The extraordinary amounts of rain poured on the Mississippi Delta have caused significant crop losses throughout the region.  Sweet potatoes, grain sorghum, soybeans and cotton harvests have been compromised to an extent that the financial survival of many producers is uncertain,” said Cochran, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.  “Existing Department of Agriculture disaster aid programs cannot provide the near-term help needed by growers.  The Direct Payment mechanism, which has been used to provide assistance numerous times, is the only way for the Department of Agriculture to provide timely assistance.”

“What was looking like a bumper crop for many Mississippi farmers in August has turned into enormous losses totaling nearly half a billion dollars statewide,” said Wicker, an original cosponsor of the measure.  “These excessive losses have made it nearly impossible for many hardworking Mississippi farmers to pay their bills or to prepare for planting next year.  The hardship caused by the excessive September and October rains will be felt beyond Mississippi’s agriculture community.  This disaster will have a negative effect on our entire economy.  The enormity of this problem has made it clear that additional disaster assistance is necessary.”

In Mississippi, 79 of 82 counties have been granted primary disaster designations by the USDA based on a minimum 30 percent loss for at least one crop in each county.

Agriculture economists at Mississippi State University estimate that crop losses in Mississippi are nearing $485 million with losses exceeding 30 percent of the state’s overall crop value.  Based on crop reports, the MSU report noted that almost 64 percent of the state’s sweet potato crop will be lost.  Nearly half of the state’s cotton, 44 percent of soybeans and 41 percent of grain sorghum will also be lost this year.

In addition to the Direct Payments, the measure would also make $650 million available to assist specialty crop producers impacted by natural disasters.  Funding would be available via payment to states.  Another $42 million would be provided to aid first handlers of cottonseed.

The measure also outlines $150 million in assistance to livestock producers whose operations have been adversely affected by weather-related disasters.

The cost of the disaster assistance legislation, scored at $2.19 billion by the Congressional Budget Office, would be offset by utilizing funds made available through the Troubled Asset Relief Program. 

The bill embraces direct payments in lieu of the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE) that was approved as part of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 to provide permanent disaster assistance.  The USDA has not completed sign-in for 2008 crop year losses, and any SURE payments for 2009 crop year losses are not expected to be available until January 2011.