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Ag producers need disaster assistance for drought

By John Stencel

It is an established fact that Colorado is in a drought, possibly the worst drought on record. Wheat production is one-third normal and ranchers are selling off herds and flocks in unprecedented numbers because they cannot afford to feed them. I commend the Denver-based media outlets for raising the public’s awareness of the impact of the drought on production agriculture.

The Colorado Legislature in its special session in July passed a resolution calling on the U.S. Congress to fund emergency disaster assistance for crop and livestock producers across the country. Our hats are off to Rep. Fran Coleman, who representing District 1—a very urban district—was the sponsor of this bill in the Colorado House.

Nonetheless, to date, the U.S. Congress refuses to act on disaster assistance. Several bills have been introduced in both the House and the Senate, yet members of the U.S. Congress left Washington, D.C., for their August recess without taking action to help out producers suffering from drought and other natural disasters. Key congressional leaders and the Bush administration have responded to the request for disaster assistance by inferring that the 2002 farm bill should take care of any problems with natural disasters. While the farm bill helps counteract low commodity prices, farmers must have a crop in order to participate in this program. Most Colorado farmers will have a greatly reduced crop or no crop at all, and the farm bill offers no payments for livestock producers.

Some congressional leaders, such as Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, have threatened to give a thumbs down to any and all requests for non-agricultural disaster allocation requests unless Congress also agrees to fund disaster assistance for agricultural producers. He reasons, “It is wrong to help some people and not others.”

A producer in my office recently put it this way: “I don’t begrudge the people who lose their homes from wildfires or other natural disasters for the assistance they get in the form of disaster assistance, but at least they can get up the next day and go to their jobs and earn a living. I can’t do that because drought has taken away my ability to earn a living, and I could lose my home along with it.”

All Coloradoans, whether they live in downtown Denver, the suburbs or a rural area should be concerned about keeping Colorado’s agricultural sector strong. Besides the fact that agriculture is the state’s biggest industry, family farmers and ranchers serve the public good by being responsible stewards of the land, and they also provide the scenic vistas that improve the quality of life for all Coloradoans.

Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, along with the Colorado Farm Bureau and other Colorado commodity groups have arranged to meet with all Colorado members of the U.S. Senate and House during August. I would encourage producers and others to e-mail or fax your member of Congress and ask him or her to support emergency disaster assistance for family farmers and ranchers. Call the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union office at 303-752-5800 to find out more details.