As drought conditions worsen for much of the country, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is stepping in to provide some relief for farmers and ranchers. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack details the steps that his agency has taken to try to mitigate the effects of what has been called the worst drought since the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression.
Under Vilsack's direction, the USDA has opened up 3.8 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land for cattle to graze on. The secretary also announced that a deal has been brokered with crop insurance companies, who have agreed to a 30-day interest-free suspension of payments that will give farmers and ranchers some breathing room.
"The reality is the big opportunity for help is in Congress' willingness to complete its work, particularly in the House of Representatives, to get what I refer to as a 'food, farm, and jobs' bill through the [legislative] process," Vilsack says. The bill would "resurrect and resume disaster assistance particularly for livestock producers and some speciality crop folks."
Such legislation may not be forthcoming, however, as Congress is nearing its summer recess without having yet voted on relief measures. Conservatives are concerned that the bill would increase spending by too much.
"The most direct effect and assistance can come from congressional action — getting these disaster programs back in place, and getting a 'food, farm, and jobs' bill through the [legislative] process," Vilsack says.