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Disaster Aid Questioned


House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson said Tuesday he sees the need to help farmers with losses in grain bins from Midwest floods. But he said the notion $3 billion is needed for Midwest disaster aid is “baloney.”

Peterson, D-Minn., met Tuesday with members of the North American Agricultural Journalists and spoke about several topics. On disaster aid, Peterson said inserting Midwest aid into a current disaster bill in the Senate could potentially hold up needed aid for Southern farmers whose farms were hit hard by hurricanes last year.

“The Southerners need this,” Peterson said. “They have a lot of crops that don’t traditionally get into crop insurance that were damaged during a tough time in the cycle. Pecan trees and peaches and so forth that are not in the normal farm-program disaster deal. So they need this $3 billion deal they have been working on for the South.”

Now, the Midwest flooding has come into play. “That’s getting tangled up with this because people are playing politics with it and making it sound like the government’s got to come in with a big disaster deal and save people,” Peterson said.

The states of Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa and Missouri were hit by a powerful storm in mid-March that caused rapid flooding of several rivers that are tributaries to the Missouri River. Dozens of communities were flooded in those states, causing extensive damage to roads, bridges and levees. Both livestock and grain farmers suffered major financial losses.

Now a similar storm, dubbed “bomb cyclones,” is expected to again develop in the Rockies and turn into a blizzard and heavy rains across Plains states and the Midwest. The storm will bring snow, rain and high winds across several states. Beyond hitting those areas already hit by floods, the latest cycle of storms will likely further delay fieldwork and spring planting.

Midwest lawmakers have pushed to include disaster aid for floods into legislation in the U.S. Senate.

For farmers hit by those storms and floods, Peterson said the 2018 farm bill deals with most of their needs already.

“The truth is, for farmers, everything that was damaged was covered in the farm bill,” Peterson said. “Ninety-eight percent of those people have crop insurance. We have the Livestock Indemnity Program. We have the Livestock Forage Program. We have all of these other programs that kick in now that we didn’t used to have.”

The congressman did note that farmers who lost crops in grain bins should be eligible for an indemnity payment and Congress should work to make that happen.

“The only thing that’s not covered is this grain that was damaged,” Peterson said. “And we have more grain being stored now than we’ve ever had because of these low prices and these tariffs.”

Peterson added, “I think we can do a one-time thing to try to help people with that. But one thing that should come in here is you could have bought insurance. So this is something that is going to come up, but you could have bought insurance.”

But Peterson said of the notion of spending $3 billion in disaster aid for the Midwest, “That’s a bunch of baloney.”

Nebraska and Iowa officials have pegged disaster losses from infrastructure and agriculture at around $1.5 billion in each state. Missouri officials have not detailed the total losses.

Peterson added that farmers who lost grain in bins likely could have bought a property and casualty insurance policy for stored grain, though he noted it would likely have been expensive to purchase. Farmers who lost crops have repeatedly also expressed worry that they will have to rely on prevented planting insurance on their fields, and prevented planting indemnities may only cover a small portion of their lost income from 2019.

Bill Northey, USDA’s undersecretary for farm production and conservation, told reporters Monday that Congress is looking at a disaster bill to allow some coverage for those grain losses, though it’s unclear just how that disaster coverage will look.

“We don’t have anything in our programs now,” Northey said.

To help with the Midwest disaster, the Emergency Conservation Program and programs like it probably need more funding, Peterson said. “The rest of it is in the farm bill, and that’s something a lot of people don’t understand.”

In the South, Peterson said, hurricanes hit right before the pecan harvest, and there are farmers who lost 70% to 80% of their trees. Those farmers will take years to reestablish their orchards, he said.

“Now you have got people saying, ‘Well, unless we do something for Iowa, we can’t do anything for these other people.’ In the South, you have got a lot of people who are going to go out of business because there’s no help for them and they are supposed to be planting right now. You are going to see a lot of these farmers go out of business.”

Peterson suggested Congress should finish legislation with Southern disaster aid separately, then work on a program for stored grain losses in the Midwest.

“I’m for it, but I don’t want to hold up the Southern disaster aid for three months while we’re fighting over this Midwest thing,” he said. “And some of it is not even real. Some people are making it seem like we’re not doing anything for Midwest farmers. Everything is covered except for this grain bin thing. The rest of it is covered by the farm bill.”

In the Red River Valley, where Peterson noted there is often flooding, he got the Natural Resources Conservation Service director in 2009 to fund ring dikes around farms in the valley. “So we don’t flood anymore and the grain bins are protected, along with the house,” Peterson said.

It’s common that anytime there is a disaster bill, another disaster strikes, said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

“Anytime you do a disaster program and you try to address the problems of each state or each crop or each region, then you have another disaster or area that has been affected, as well, and there are hard feelings in terms of ‘Wait a minute, we’re not being covered by that bill,'” Roberts said.

Before the Midwest floods hit, the disaster package moving through Congress primarily was meant to help farmers and businesses in Georgia, Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico that were hit by hurricanes, as well as funding for recovery from wildfires in California. The disaster package got held up in the Senate because Democrats still want more aid for Puerto Rico and Senate Republicans are resisting that funding.

Roberts added, “Time is of the essence, and we have to get it done.”

The Army Corps of Engineers is holding meetings this week about flood risks in major communities along the Missouri River, including meetings in Fort Pierre, South Dakota; and Sioux City, Iowa; on Wednesday, as well as Smithville, Missouri; and Nebraska City, Nebraska, on Thursday. For more information about the meetings, visit http://www.nwd-mr.usace.army.mil/….

State officials have said they want more control over flood protection along the Missouri River. The United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works is planning to hold a field hearing from 9-11 a.m. Wednesday, April 17, in Glenwood, Iowa. The hearing will focus on Missouri River management and the current flooding situation in Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska.

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

Source: Chris Clayton, DTN

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