fb - voice of agriculture
September 2002

Weather Disasters Pummel Producers

Bob Stallman
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

As the summer wears on, farmers and ranchers across the country talk about one topic--the incredibly miserable weather of 2002. Many claim these are the worst growing conditions they can remember. In the upper Midwest, fruit growers were affected by late winter warm spells that encouraged an early bloom, only to be hit with frost when cooler spring weather occurred. In the Northeast, a late spring snow had similar killing results. The north Plains suffered severe flooding, as did south Texas, where an area larger than the state of Rhode Island has been declared a disaster area. The West, South and most of the Corn Belt are wilting under brutal temperatures and insufficient rainfall. In the Southwest, forest fires are claiming lives and livelihoods.

Recent news from USDA vividly defines a national agricultural disaster. Last month's crop report predicts that the nation's wheat and soybean production this year will be down about 300 million bushels each and corn output will be a billion bushels under what experts expected at planting. Haying and grazing of some land under conservation contracts will be permitted to feed starving herds and flocks. The government also designated $150 million for emergency livestock feed purchases.

Emergency Aid Needed Now

Just looking at the government numbers for expected harvest of corn, soybeans or wheat, we can see that producers of those commodities will suffer major income declines. Losses to producers of apples, onions, grapes, cherries and all the other food crops that have been affected have yet to be estimated but they are definitely drawing the attention of nervous bankers. According to USDA, smaller crops will push prices higher, for those with crops to sell, and raise feed costs for livestock producers.

While federal crop insurance has been available to many producers, the system still is not adequate to assist a lot of producers who have major losses. In fact, Farm Bureau created our own crop insurance affiliate to help fill in some of the gaps left by the federal program. Given the inadequacy of federal crop insurance and the inability to fully recover losses, the great majority of producers who suffered weather disasters this year will take a farm-threatening hit to their income without emergency aid.

Several members of Congress have already written legislation to provide disaster assistance funding to stricken farmers and ranchers. The efforts are appreciated. Any assistance measure will have to be passed and signed into law soon, because the 107th Congress is scheduled to adjourn in early October. Farm Bureau is encouraging such a move, now that the extent of weather damage to agricultural production is easier to gauge.

Farm Bill Addresses Different Concerns

We are stressing to elected leaders that the federal farm program does not address weather disasters. Farm program legislation is designed to avert economic disaster. It is based on production and when a producer has little or no harvest, obviously his payment suffers. Weather emergencies require emergency funding and should help producers of all commodities. Diverting funds already allocated to specific farm bill provisions will only weaken the entire program and America's most important industry.

Farm Bureau will continue to press for emergency assistance to help farm and ranch families cope with the devastating weather disasters that hit our country this year. There have been numerous programs in the past that have helped provide stability and security to those in need. I fully expect similar wisdom and compassion from our government this time around, as well.