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Senator Grassley Says Texans Can Expect Help
Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa said he expects farmers and ranchers impacted by Hurricane Harvey will be able to depend on federal aid from FEMA, as have those suffering loss from natural disaster in the past.
“Right now, we’re focused on helping people,” said Grassley, “and not the cost yet.” Grassley made his remarks in his weekly interview for the Capitol Hill Report.
FEMA funds are allocated in the beginning of the fiscal year, obviously without any knowledge of need. Grassley says funds are usually replenished in a “noncontroversial manner.” But that remains to be seen. President Trump’s proposed budget calls for $667 million in cuts to FEMA, and there is fear the crisis could get lost in the politics of budget negotiations.
“Those affected by this disaster are going to need help for a long time, a year or more,” said Grassley. “They need to know help will be there under the principle it has been in the past, with the federal government as the insurer of last resort.”
“That’s good to know,” said Jeremy Fuchs, media relations spokesman for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Ranchers Association (TSCRA). “We haven’t even begun assessing damage, but we know there is a long road ahead.”
While Houston and other cities in the storm’s path have garnered the headlines, in between those population centers lies prime Texas ag country. Around 1.2 million head – 27% of the leading beef producing state’s beef herd – are located in the area, along with about 300,000 acres of cotton, estimated before the storm to produce an 8.8 million-bale harvest.
Attempts at a prehurricane early harvest were somewhat successful. Experts estimate 2% to 75% of the crop remains in the field, depending on the area.
Ranchers also worked to get cattle out of danger before the storm hit. Yet, rivers and creeks are still rising, and cattle are scattered.
As is most often the case, the ag sector is working to take care of itself as much as possible. Resources abound, and producer organizations are working to get the word out. TSCFA, Texas A&M, Texas Farm Bureau, NCBA, and others have web space devoted to resource information and access.
“We encourage producers to go to our Hurricane page and bookmark it for when you need it,” said Fuchs. “We’re here to help however we can.”
Grassley said he is confident the emergency will be dealt with on the federal level better than in the past. “The president and his team seem to be on top of it,” he said.
The disaster comes at a time when cattle producers and farmers across the U.S. are deeply concerned about the renegotiation of NAFTA, another topic covered by Grassley.
“We’re monitoring that very closely,” said Fuchs. “It’s a very important issue for cattle raisers.” Mexico and Canada are the Number 2 and 3 (behind Number 1 Japan) export markets for U.S. beef. Between 1994 and 2013, U.S. beef exports to Mexico and Canada increased from $660 million to more than $2 billion, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). During the same period, U.S. pork exports increased from less than $190 million to more than $2 billion. In addition, both the beef and swine industries are closely intertwined, with feeder cattle and pigs coming into the U.S. with increasing regularity.
“We want to continue to be successful in those trade relationships,” Fuchs added. “We want to ensure there is no harm done.”
Grassley said that is the message he is hearing from throughout the ag community in regard to the NAFTA renegotiation.
“We’re starting from a hard-bargaining position,” said Grassley. “But Canada and Mexico are in the same position. As we move ahead with negotiations, there will likely be some compromise.” He added, from his vantage point, it appears the president’s stance as he renegotiates is “a lot more moderate than his position during the campaign.”
The 2018 Farm Bill is also on the table, and Grassley said he expects continued progress.
“We plan to have two more hearings in September and then will write the bill in October.” When the bill will hit the Senate floor is still unknown, with scheduling out of the Ag Committee’s hands. “We have so much to do this fall,” said Grassley. “It’s hard to say when we will address this.”
Crop insurance is at the top of the list of concerns for producers, and for Grassley who, aside from his focus on the farm bill, is also keeping an eye on immigration issues, especially as they pertain to agriculture.
“If the president puts forth a bill on legal immigration based on merit, ag and H-1B workers could be addressed in a compromise,” said Grassley. “We’ll see in the next few months.”