Japan's Agriculture Ministry late this week confirmed the country's 29th case of mad cow disease since 2001. Japan banned imports of American beef in 2003 after the first case of mad cow disease in the United States. After lifting and re-imposing the ban in the months since, U.S. beef finally began hitting Japanese store shelves last month. But even as the lucrative export market returns, cattle producers face significant challenges at home. Not the least of which is persistent drought that has scorched pasture and rangeland. The arid conditions are not lost on Washington, where lawmakers were trying to end a stalemate between the White House and Congress over disaster relief funds.
The proposed relief bill would provide as much as $6.5 billion to farmers, in addition to the more than $20 billion they will receive this year in government payments.
While USDA forecasts the nation's corn and soybeans to be on track for the second-best harvest ever, farm-state lawmakers are trying to get the relief legislation through the House before Congress adjourns for the midterm elections. They say farmers need help now, noting severe drought, floods, hurricanes and higher energy prices; all have had a devastating affect on farmers and ranchers. Some producers have weathered the hottest summer since the Dust Bowl, and drought has persisted in a path from Montana to Texas.
In Oklahoma, officials fear livestock producers won't get enough drought aid despite USDA's announcement last month of an $800 million relief package for farmers and ranchers. Oklahoma officials say $700 million of that was advance crop assistance payments and not new aid. The drought has fueled wildfires that have destroyed 600,000 acres of land in the state, eliminating grazing pastures and forcing many ranchers to liquidate their herds.