DENVER—The Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) Disaster Task Force meeting here today commended Rep. Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo., for her sponsorship of an emergency disaster assistance bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill would begin making payments to producers suffering losses in 2001 and 2002 upon implementation and would not require budget offsets from the farm bill, two provisions favored by RMFU.
“Forty-eight of our 50 states are suffering drought to some degree, and Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico are among the hardest hit. Producers are particularly in trouble since the drought is destroying their homes, their livelihoods and any equity they may have had in their operations,” said RMFU President John Stencel. “We are grateful for Representative Cubin’s decision to get the ball rolling in the U.S. House in order to bring us closer to an allocation for emergency assistance for producers suffering from natural disasters.” RMFU’s Disaster Task Force will be putting pressure on all members of the U.S. House to support the much-needed measure. Similar legislation was passed overwhelmingly in the U.S. Senate last week, but passage in the House and approval by President George Bush is expected to be more difficult.
“President Bush has taken the position that any spending for disaster assistance should come from the farm bill. That is kind of like suggesting that citizens receiving assistance for homes destroyed by a hurricane pay for the assistance through, for example, cuts in Social Security spending or federal education funding for their region. Similarly, Farmers Union opposes such offsets,” said Stencel.
Compared with a year ago, Wyoming producers who managed to raise a crop got 7 percent more on average for their commodities, while livestock prices fell 20 percent. Nationwide, farm income is predicted to fall 23 percent and is comparable to farm income levels during the 1980s farm crisis.
“The perception by many, including Agriculture Secretary Veneman, is that farm bill programs will help farmers suffering extreme drought. However, due to rising commodity prices and the absence of a crop for many farmers, program payments will be far less than expected,” Stencel said.
Livestock producers have suffered from the high cost or unavailability of feed as well as from low prices, which have resulted in the sale of at least 50 percent of Colorado’s foundation cattle herds. Drought-struck areas of Wyoming and New Mexico are estimated to have similar sell offs. There is no farm bill or other program that compensates producers when livestock falls below certain levels.