While the weather market is providing some opportunities for farmers to sell grain at profitable levels, there is also the concern about having a crop to sell. The drought is shaving yields. Private industry estimates project the lowest corn harvest in seven years. The soybean harvest is likely to be 7 to 8 percent lower than last year. For that reason many in farm country are turning an expectant eye to Washington for some help. Congress has been responsive before, and this is an election year.
Backers of the new farm bill have argued the generous subsidy increases it contained were necessary to put an end to the multi—billion dollar emergency aid packages passed by Congress in each of the past four years.
Now, lawmakers are looking at a bill that would provide some five-billion dollars in emergency aid for farmers and ranchers affected by drought. If approved, the money would be above and beyond the $190 billion dollars allocated under the 10-year life of the farm bill. But the White House and some Republican lawmakers oppose new aid, saying all emergency money should come from programs in the farm bill.
At week's end, the Senate Agriculture Committee considering the aid adjourned without taking action. There's bipartisan support to do something, but Republicans are pushing a second bill that would provide about half of what Democrats are proposing.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas: "I had a bill as a substitute, others had different approaches, but the decision has been made by the chairman to postpone this ‘til September. We can take a better look at this in terms of the fall crops. But I think farmers should understand that some form of disaster assistance will be forthcoming. We have to."
Sen. Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota: "I think we will see a re-estimate of the cost of the farm bill in August by the Congressional Budget Office that shows the cost of the farm bill dramatically reduced because of these disasters. That is, because the crops are short, prices have risen. That means the farm bill will cost less. That means there will be substantial resources available to provide disaster assistance."
Chairman Tom Harkin says the disaster assistance bill will be the priority for the agriculture committee when Congress returns from its August recess.