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House Ag Leader Backs One-Time Aid for Flooded Grain

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said farmers ought to be considered for federal compensation for grain lost in flooded bins this spring. Perdue gave conditional support to compensation at nearly the same time the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee called for a one-time grain payment to flooded operators.

Insurance policies often cover grain bins and associated equipment such as augers to move the grain, but not the contents. The USDA says none of its disaster programs address flood damage to stored grain. Farmers are storing larger-than-usual amounts of grain on the farm because of a series of bumper corn and soybean crops and also low commodity prices exacerbated by trade war.

“I think we can do a one-time thing to to try to help people with that,” House Agriculture chairman Collin Peterson told the North American Agricultural Journalists meeting at the Capitol. The Minnesota Democrat said the 2018 farm law and USDA disaster programs cover most eventualities but not stored grain, which cannot be sold for food use if contaminated by flooding because of the risk of mold and fungus. “But one thing that should come in here is you could have bought insurance. So this is something that is going to come up…” Disaster bills often require growers to buy crop insurance if they are compensated for crop losses.

Also on Capitol Hill, Perdue likened flooded grain bins to inundated grain fields. “If it’d been flooded prior to harvest, would we have compensated it? Yes. Just because it’s in the bin, does that make it different? They haven’t marketed that. I think that’s certainly something we should consider.”

Congress is scheduled to recess for two weeks on Friday, leaving disaster aid up in the air. The Trump administration opposes additional aid to Puerto Rico, hit by two major hurricanes in 2017, beyond an additional $600 million for food stamps. Congressional Democrats say grant money for reconstruction should be included as well. At the start of this month, Senate Democrats and Republicans took turns blocking roughly $14 billion in disaster relief for hurricanes, wildfires, and volcanoes because of the battle over Puerto Rico.

“This is really a Senate issue,” said Texas Rep. Michael Conaway, the Republican leader on the House Agriculture Committee. He declined to comment on one of Peterson’s suggestions: Move $3 billion in aid for Southern agriculture separately from the rest of the disaster bill.

When asked about disaster relief, Senate Agriculture chairman Pat Roberts said he hoped the Senate would “get this done as soon as we can.”

The ag committee leaders all supported speedy passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the successor to NAFTA. “Really want to get this done this summer. The sooner, the better,” said Conaway, with the caveat that the White House will decide when to seek a vote.

A relatively small amount of money will be needed for payments on spoiled grain, said Peterson, because there are aid programs, such as livestock indemnity, feed assistance, and land restoration, for most types of damage from floods. There have been suggestions of $3 billion for Farm Belt aid. Peterson said figures like that were overestimates.

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