U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander today said much-needed relief is on the way for Tennessee farmers after a devastating year for the state’s agriculture industry.
“While nothing can make up for the double whammy to Tennessee farmers of the spring freeze and the worst drought in 118 years that literally led to dried up ponds and creeks across the state, $622 million for critical drought aid in this year’s omnibus spending bill should help,” said Alexander, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Alexander said this emergency aid, combined with the recently passed Senate farm bill that also boosts disaster relief assistance, should help farmers across the state currently suffering from major losses after a brutal 2007.
The Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 Omnibus Conference Report, which the Senate passed last week, includes the $622 million to provide emergency agricultural aid. The provision extends eligibility for the Crop Disaster Program, Livestock Compensation Program and the Livestock Indemnity Program through December 31, 2007. Alexander urged those suffering from the drought to take advantage of this emergency assistance.
"Disaster-relief programs are meant to help these suffering farmers from across the state,” Alexander said. “It’s important to get the word out that farmers can get the assistance they desperately need to recover from their major losses.”
The passage of the critical drought aid came at the end of a long year for Tennessee farmers during which Alexander has been working hard to get relief:
In April, Alexander joined other members of the Tennessee Congressional Delegation in asking then-U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns to issue an agricultural disaster declaration for all 95 Tennessee counties after the devastating spring crop freeze. The request was granted in June.
In June, Alexander saw firsthand the effects on an area farm of the drought and the year’s late freeze when he joined a group of about 40 farmers and agriculture industry representatives at a Philadelphia, Tenn., farm.
In July, Alexander again joined the other members of the Tennessee Congressional Delegation in asking then-Secretary Johanns to issue an agricultural disaster declaration for all 95 Tennessee counties due to the results of the drought.
In August, Alexander applauded the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) approval of that request for an agricultural disaster designation for all 95 Tennessee counties. The designation made Tennessee farmers affected by drought conditions eligible to be considered for low-interest emergency loans through the Farm Service Agency (FSA), helping farmers offset crop losses suffered this growing season.
In October, Alexander joined the other members of the Tennessee Congressional Delegation in asking acting U.S. Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner for the use of direct payments in assisting Tennessee farmers whose pastures have been devastated by the drought. The delegation asked that the Agriculture Department tap into its discretionary funds to make direct payments towards a pasture recovery program in Tennessee.
The period from January through May was the driest five-month period in Tennessee in more than 100 years. The ongoing drought conditions have caused many of Tennessee’s livestock producers to sell entire herds due to inadequate hay production and water sourcing. Pasture and forage losses have totaled $140 million in Tennessee, crippling livestock feed supplies and those that rely on them, such as the cattle industry.