The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee said Tuesday his committee is looking at creating a program to fund permanent disaster relief for producers rather than having to go through an annual appropriation for disaster relief.
"It just takes too long and many of our farmers are done away with because we move too slow," Rep. David Scott, D-Georgia, said during a "Member Day" hearing in which members of Congress pitched bills to the committee.
Scott's comments came after freshman Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, championed his bill, HR 1692, the Restore Act (Rehabilitating Economic Success Through Overcoming Rural Emergencies) Act. Jackson's bill would authorize USDA's Wildfire Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP-Plus) to cover natural disasters for 2020 and 2021. Jackson pointed to $600 million in agricultural losses just due to winter storms hitting Texas producers back in February.
WHIP-Plus right is still paying out for disasters from 2018 and 2019. There are still quality loss payments and producers frequently ask about a second expected WHIP-Plus check. USDA staff continue to say they are still reviewing applications to see how funds will be divvied up.
Scott told Jackson that disaster aid is an issue the Agriculture Committee "is grappling with as we speak. Disaster aid is so critical." A permanent program would allow aid "to get down to farms at their time of need," Scott said.
From 2008-2014, USDA had the SURE program that provided permanent aid but had hard caps on the aid amount. The program was dropped in the 2014 farm bill.
Other lawmakers made pitches to the Agriculture Committee for several bills. Freshman Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, talked about her bill, the PRECISE Act, which would allow USDA to use its conservation programs, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and Conservation Stewardship Program to fund precision agriculture technology for farmers. Hinson said precision technology can improve yields and lower inputs, but the technology can be extremely expensive "making it out of reach for many of our family farmers in Iowa."
Hinson also highlighted the need for better broadband service in rural America. Scott told Hinson he "100% agreed on precision agriculture" and broadband benefits for farmers.
Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., also called for an oversight hearing into USDA agencies, including the Farm Service Agency to get FSA offices to reopen. He noted offices are closed despite the heavy workloads facing local offices with the various aid programs right now.
"The pandemic has put a ton of strain on these local FSA offices."
Johnson and Rep. Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, also each highlighted the challenges facing cattle producers and the combined letter from cattle and agricultural groups on Monday seeking changes in the industry. Feenstra said four packers right now control 80% of daily slaughter and their formula contracts often leave other producers having to delay the sale of their cattle because packing capacity is already taken up for the week. The cattle market situation requires a "discussion that must take place" before Congress reauthorizes the Livestock Mandatory Price Reporting law. Feenstra highlighted the challenges facing producers and sense of urgency. "We have current independent cattle producers who will not be in business in the next six months if we don't get this rectified," Feenstra said.
Rep Bruce Westerman, R-Arkansas, called on the House Agriculture Committee to support his bill to plant 1 trillion trees, tying it for forest management programs. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, D-N.Y., asked lawmakers to support her Urban Forest Act to promote urban forestry programs.
Multiple Democratic lawmakers also called on the committee to help expand various nutrition programs and work on food security goals.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN
(c) Copyright 2021 DTN, LLC. All rights reserved.