Glickman says more U.S. farm aid needed
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The Congress likely will need to approve more disaster aid for farmers this year because of poor crop conditions in parts of the country, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said Monday.
"It's clear that more money is going to be needed," Glickman said at a news conference with National Farmers Union President Leland Swenson. "I can't tell you what the number is right now because we haven't done the assessment."
With just 20 days left in the legislative session, Swenson outlined an ambitious agenda, including additional aid of at least $2 billion for farmers and raising the federal wheat and corn loan rates to levels in line with the soybean loan rate.
Glickman said the administration did not have a position on "equalizing" commodity loan rates, and would work with Congress on how much additional disaster aid may be needed.
Two hundred NFU members are in Washington this week, with the goal of visiting every congressional office, Swenson said.
The group is also pushing for an extension of the dairy price support program and an increase in the support rate.
Another objective is reducing concentration in the agricultural sector by imposing a ban on meat packers owning livestock operations, Swenson said.
The upcoming congressional election should give farmers leverage with Congress, Swenson said.
Because voter turnout in rural areas tends to be higher than the national average, the outcome of many races could depend on agricultural issues, Swenson said. h Glickman agreed the farm vote could have an impact.
"There are no threats, but there are consequences in elections," he noted. "That's the American way." Farm groups could be most effective by targeting lawmakers with specific requests and making clear their votes will depend on what Congress does over the next several weeks, he said.
Since 1998, Congress has approved $22 billion in aid to farmers because of low prices and crop disasters, on top of the government payments they receive under the 1996 farm act.
The latest disaster aid installment of $7.1 billion was approved only months ago.
But Swenson said more aid was needed because higher oil prices have boosted costs for farmers by $5-6 billion.
In addition to low prices across the country, wheat farmers in North Dakota have suffered grain quality losses because of adverse weather conditions and parts of Texas are struggling with drought, Swenson said.
Glickman noted that parts of his home state of Kansas, the number one winter wheat producer, are extremely dry ahead of the fall planting season. Georgia is also suffering from dry conditions, another Agriculture Department aide said.
Because the soybean loan rate is high compared to other commodities, the NFU wants Congress to raise the rates for wheat and corn, Swenson said.
To "equal" the $5.26 per bushel soybean loan rate, the corn loan rate should be raised to about $2.20 per bushel, from $1.89 currently, he said.
The wheat loan rate should be raised to about $3.40 per bushel, from $2.58 currently, he said.
At the news conference, Swenson presented Glickman with a "Friend of Farmers Union" award for his work as agriculture secretary over the past five years and his efforts for farmers as a member of Congress from Kansas for 18 years.
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