Though scattered thunderstorms are predicted this weekend for parts of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana, the government reports 32 large fires are burning on more than 1.5 million acres in the west -- and more than half of the blazes are in Montana.
While millions of federal and local dollars have already been spent fighting the flames, it remains to be seen what kind of relief will be available for farmers and ranchers.
With Congress about to return from its summer recess, the power brokers continue to wrestle with fine print of the 2007 Farm Bill... and everything from payment limits to disaster relief is on the table.
The major sticking point continues to be payments to farmers. The House version, which passed in late July, limits payments to farmers with an adjusted gross income, or AGI, of $1 million dollars. Speaking this week at the farm Progress Show in Illinois, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns reiterated his position that payments should be limited to farmers with an AGI of $250,000 or less. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin of Iowa has yet to officially suggest a limit though he does favor something closer to Johanns' proposal.
How those payments will be made appears to be causing some controversy. Though Johanns requested a payment program based on revenue, the House version allows for a choice between a revenue based program and the traditional payment program. Senator Harkin wants a counter-cyclical revenue-based payment program to be the only choice.
Farm Bureau president Bob Stallman is hopeful the Senate will use the House bill as a template for its edition of the measure.
Bob Stallman, President, American Farm Bureau Federation: "The payment limit restrictive but willing to live with it. Come out close to the House bill.
The bill is expected to reach the Senate floor sometime in late September or early October. Once approved, the legislation will go to a conference committee to hammer out the details. White House officials say President Bush will veto a bill that doesn't match Johann's original proposal.
The entire package is expected to cost $286 billion over 5 years but only $42 billion goes for agriculture.