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Efforts to pass disaster assistance taken to D.C.

Nine Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) members were present in the nation’s capital Sept. 10, when the U.S. Senate passed an emergency disaster assistance amendment, a measure Farmers Union and other farm groups had been calling for since midsummer. The amendment, which was at one time thought to be difficult to pass due to President George Bush’s opposition, passed by a voice vote.

The RMFU members present were taking part in a National Farmers Union fly-in, Sept. 8-11. They were joined by 175 other Farmers Union members from 22 other states.

“With most of Colorado, as well as large parts of Wyoming and New Mexico in the most severe drought in their histories, the Senate’s willingness to enact emergency disaster assistance is very, very welcome,” said RMFU President John Stencel. “We will continue to work with U.S. House members and the Bush administration to gain their support of disaster assistance without offsets from the farm bill.”

The amendment provides assistance to farmers suffering from natural disasters in 2001 and 2002 without requiring budgetary offsets in the farm bill. Despite their excitement with passage of the measure, Farmers Union officials and others agree that passage of a similar bill in the House and agreement from President Bush will be much more difficult.

Also during their visit to Washington, D.C., fly-in participants heard from a number of officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman used her address to the Farmers Union delegates to announce that Conservation Reserve Program lands will be opened for haying and grazing nationwide. Her announcement that she was authorizing the expansion of haying and grazing from 18 states to the entire nation to combat livestock feed losses due to widespread drought was warmly received.

RMFU members had the opportunity during the fly-in to meet with top officials in the USDA’s Packers and Stockyards Agency. The meeting consisted of an overview of the history, duties, and limitations of the agency, and also included a time for members to ask questions about specific situations.

The Farmers Union members also visited congressional offices to push for a number of measures, including emergency disaster assistance in the House, farmer-friendly implementation of the farm bill and legislation to increase competition among buyers of agricultural commodities.