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Disaster assistance goal of recent D.C. fly-in

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Three representatives of Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) returned from the nation’s capital Jan. 9, optimistic that federal aid for agricultural natural disasters may be forthcoming.

Monty Niebur, Akron, Colo., Norbert (Bud) Pekarek, Burlington, Colo., and Jerry McArthur, Burlington, Colo., joined about 100 other farmers, ranchers and rural business people from across the nation who went to Washington, D.C., to push for emergency aid for farmers and ranchers hit with the most wide-spread natural disasters since the 1930s Dust Bowl. Lawmakers presented several disaster relief proposals before the group left the city.

“We had a great reception as we visited congressional offices to ask for support of disaster assistance,” Niebur said. Most all of Colorado’s members of Congress said they definitely or probably would support a bill funding disaster assistance for producers suffering weather-related catastrophic losses.” The Coloradoans were part of a coalition, comprised of 39 farm and related organizations, led by National Farmers Union and American Farm Bureau Federation.

Niebur was not as optimistic of support from the Bush administration for emergency disaster assistance for producers. “Convincing President Bush that assistance should be allocated will be our biggest challenge,” he said.

President George Bush continues to hold the position that spending for disaster assistance should be offset by cuts in other farm programs. Producers argue that funding for aid to farmers needed due to drought and other weather disasters should not be offset any more than aid given to victims of hurricanes, floods and other disasters. The coalition that visited Washington, D.C., last week is asking for an aid package that covers all crop and livestock production and quality losses due to any natural disaster in 2001 or 2002 and that the funding not come from cuts in farm bill programs.

Industry officials are estimating 30-40 percent of farming and ranching operations could be forced out of business without a federal disaster assistance package of at least $6 billion. “Even with such assistance, there are operations that will not survive, but for some this assistance could make a significant difference!” said RMFU President John Stencel.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Secretary Ann M. Veneman declared more than 80 percent of all U.S. counties as agricultural disasters in 2002 and 48.6 percent of all counties in 2001. In Colorado, 100 percent of counties were declared disasters in 2002.