Lincoln: Further Assistance May Be Needed for Arkansas’s Farmers, Ranchers

Washington – U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today commended U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for designating several Arkansas counties as Secretarial Disaster areas, but cautioned that more assistance may be needed to help farmers and ranchers whose livelihoods have been affected by record rain and extensive flooding.  Earlier this week, Lincoln called on Secretary Vilsack to make the Secretarial Disaster Designation for 26 counties, which allows affected farmers and ranchers to be eligible for emergency loans.

“Our producers have been hit hard by severe weather this year,” Lincoln said.  “As Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I have been working closely with the Governor’s office and members of the delegation to ensure disaster declarations are declared for affected counties, and I commend Secretary Vilsack for taking this important step.

“We have received numerous reports from our farmers indicating the extensive damage to this year’s crop. With just 15% of cotton acres harvested, as compared to an average of about 75% usually harvested by this time, and with rice, soybeans and other crops also seriously lagging, the need for help is evident and will become more so as we realize the full extent of the damage in the weeks and months to come.  In a recent meeting with Secretary Vilsack, I shared my deep concern that there will be significant quantity and quality losses and that our producers are going to need help.

“While we are pleased with Secretary Vilsack’s declaration, more assistance will be needed.  Because the disaster program included in the Farm Bill has not yet been implemented and any help provided under that program for 2009 will be delayed for at least a year, I believe USDA must be prepared to act when and where necessary to bridge the gap in the safety net.  In the past, when USDA has waited for Congressional approval of ad hoc disaster assistance, debate over the legislation and USDA implementation have simply taken too long.

“The bottom line is that all options must be on the table in lending a helping hand to our producers when and where needed.”