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Trump Signs Disaster Bill with $3 Billion for Agriculture

A smiling President Trump announced enactment of the $19.1 billion disaster bill that includes $3 billion for agricultural relief on Thursday. Delayed for months by White House efforts to limit aid to Puerto Rico, the disaster package empowers Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to allot the farm assistance through block grants to states and territories.

The new law specifically covers “crops prevented from planting in 2019” and grain lost to flooding while stored on the farm, along with damage in previous years from hurricanes in the South, wildfires in the West and volcanic eruptions on Hawaii. It was unclear how widely prevented-planting aid could be distributed in a year when abandonments are expected to be millions of acres larger than usual.

“Just signed Disaster Aid Bill to help Americans who have been hit by recent catastrophic storms,” said Trump on social media. “So important for our GREAT American farmers and ranchers. Help for GA, FL, IA, NE, NC, and CA.” Accompanying the tweet was a photo of Trump smiling broadly and displaying his signature on the bill. Trump signed the bill while in Ireland. Included in the bill is $600 million for food stamps in Puerto Rico.

“We look forward to implementing this disaster aid package in a fair way and working with state leadership to identify where the true losses and needs are to best serve our fellow Americans in need of a helping hand,” said Perdue. He is scheduled to discuss disaster aid today with state officials in Florida and Georgia, his home state. The bill allows the wealthiest farm operators to collect a Trump tariff payment if 75 percent of their income is from farming, ranching or forestry, and it establishes crop insurance for hemp products.

While the disaster bill allows the USDA to greatly increase the payment factor for crop insurance indemnities for prevented planting, “our reading of the bill suggests…it is not likely to be applicable to most counties in the Midwest,” wrote five university economists last week.

“I secured specific relief for farmers whose grain bins busted because of flooding. This should help those affected, especially in Southwest Iowa, in the continued effort to rebuild and recover,” said Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley. “I will continue to work with farmers, communities and the state on what further assistance will be needed.”

Economist John Newton of the American Farm Bureau Federation said the agricultural aid “could be spread pretty thin,” considering the array of natural disasters across the United States. “Certainly there are a lot of people who need some help,” said Newton on the Adams on Agriculture program. The regulations to provide the aid have not been written yet.

At the start of the week, USDA reported that 31 million acres of corn – one-third of the crop – were not planted due to persistently wet weather. Usually, corn planting is completed by the start of June. Some analysts say up to 10 million acres of corn will go unplanted. Some of the land may be switched to other crops, with soybeans the most likely alternative in the Midwest.

Nearly half of the farmers who took part in a straw poll said they will be unable to plant some of their corn, said Farm Journal. One in five of the 983 farmers who took part in the online poll said they would be unable to plant half, or more, of the corn acreage that they intended. But 52 percent said they do not plan to file a claim for prevented planting on their corn land.

The wet spring is bringing a “rapidly emerging forage crisis for livestock farmers across the Midwest,” said an amalgam of seven farm groups, pointing to heavy winter-kill losses to alfalfa fields in the upper Midwest and the likely loss of corn silage because of prevented planting. The groups asked Perdue to authorize farmers to plant forage crops immediately on prevented-planted land; they also want to allow grazing and harvest of forage on prevented-planting land as well as on land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve.

Livestock specialist Ernie Birchmeier of the Michigan Farm Bureau said some dairy farmers would sell some of their stock unless emergency provisions provide a source of forage. “The scale of the forage and feed crisis is considered unprecedented. For many farmers, this decision will be the deciding factor of whether their multi-generational family farms continue.”

Making the request were the state Farm Bureaus of Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio, the Michigan Cattlemen’s Association, Dairy Farmers of America and the Michigan Milk Producers Association.

A White House statement on the disaster bill is available here.

Text of the disaster bill is available here.

For a summary of the bill, click here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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