Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a one-year farm-ranch disaster bill by a vote of 223-197. The House now plans to be out of town until Sept. 9.
Senate leadership indicated before the House action that it would only entertain passing a disaster package that was the same as the one included in the Senate's approved multi-year Farm Bill. The Senate will be out of the district until Sept. 7 and did not take action on an agriculture disaster bill.
The House-passed disaster legislation would reauthorize for 2012 only the Livestock Indemnity Payments (LIP), Livestock Forage Disaster Programs (LFP), Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees and Farm-Raised Fish and the Tree Assistance Program providing for payments totaling $383 million. The money to pay for the disaster package comes from cuts to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and from the Conservation Stewardship Program.
Under the LIP program, the House language retains the 75 percent payment on the value of sheep killed, including loss from federally reintroduced or regulated predators and avian predators. The LFP would allow producers to receive 60 percent of feed costs for one to three months for stock on the range, depending on the severity of the drought in a locality. There is also $20 million for feed and water shortages for livestock producers, bee keepers and fish farmers.
According to Peter Orwick, executive director of the American Sheep Industry Association, "The unfortunate part for producers in drought areas who are facing expensive feed purchases and making decision on how many ewes to keep or whether or not to feed lambs rather than sell them on the lower market is that there is no opportunity for them to even apply for LFP or Non Insured Acres Program payments through the Farm Service Agency. In a normal situation, drought payments would be available now to help cash flow feed purchases and assist in making decisions about selling or feeding lambs. Given the narrow window for House and Senate action in September, it could be months, not weeks, for a definitive answer on availability and timing of disaster assistance."
Senate Agriculture Chairman Stabenow (Mich.), on the Senate floor on Thursday, said she would pursue a dual strategy when the Senate returns in September. She said she would do everything possible to pass and send to the President a complete five-year Farm Bill; however, if that effort should fail, she is committed to passing comprehensive disaster aid. Stabenow noted that the disaster provisions contained in the Senate-passed Farm Bill would make larger payments to livestock producers hurt by the drought and would also provides for payments to fruit producers who lost their fruit whereas the House-passed disaster legislation would only make payments to fruit producers if they lost their trees.
"Finding floor time when Congress returns in September to consider and pass a complete Farm Bill will be difficult," said Fran Boyd with Meyers and Associates. "The House only has seven or eight legislative days available to them in September."
Following the disaster vote in the House, House Agriculture Chairman Lucas (Okla.) and Ranking Member Peterson (Minn.) met with Stabenow and Senate Agriculture Ranking Member Roberts (Kan.) and other Senators to discuss movement of a five-year Farm Bill. Lucas said committee staffs can work to resolve some issues but the four committee leaders would need to be present for any major decisions.
Congress will be in a "pro forma session" for the remainder of August and part of September since the House rejected the Senate's resolution to recess.
Orwick encouraged producers to share the drought and feed-crisis discussion with U.S. Senators and Representatives while they are home during the August congressional break.