Bill Adds $1.5 Billion for Farm Disaster Assistance

Published online: Dec 17, 2019 News Jenny Schlecht
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Source: Agweek

Agriculture producers affected by severe weather may be eligible for another $1.5 billion in disaster funding under a bill under consideration in Congress. Other provisions in the bill could help sugarbeet producers and others affected by unusual 2019 conditions.

Senate Agriculture Appropriations Chair John Hoeven, R-N.D., said the bill, which provides funding on top of the more than $3 billion already available under Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus, will be taken up by both the House and Senate this week and has support in both chambers.

Congress this summer passed a bill to provide $3 billion through Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus, or WHIP+, to eligible producers who suffered eligible crop losses resulting from floods, snowstorms, tornadoes, and wildfires that occurred in the 2018 and 2019 calendar years. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency was tasked with paying out half of the $3 billion, then waiting until the end of the year to determine how much the total need was and prorating additional claims.

But with all the wild weather in 2019, Hoeven said the $3 billion didn't seem likely to be enough.

"Clearly, the need out there is more than we anticipated," Hoeven said in a phone call on Monday, Dec. 16. "I'm hoping they won't have to" prorate payments.

The additional $1.5 billion, a statement from Hoeven's office explained, comes from unspent fiscal year 2017 disaster funding.

But the bill in Congress is more than just additional disaster funding; it also contains language to try to help producers caught in a number of unusual situations given the wild weather of 2019.

For instance, language was added to assist sugarbeet producers in the Red River Valley who had a historically bad beet harvest. Hoeven and House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., have been advocating for additional assistance for sugar beet producers who face substantial losses after severe weather prevented them from harvesting their crop.

Both American Crystal Sugar and Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative have announced that their farmers will be paid less per ton than in recent past years to make up for fewer beets to process. Additionally, farmers in American Crystal and Minn-Dak who were unable to harvest their beets are being assessed per-acre charges to cover the respective cooperative's fixed costs.

Hoeven said the language in the bill would provide payments to the sugarbeet cooperatives. Then, the cooperatives could distribute the money in an equitable manner to producers. If a producer spent an extraordinary amount of money harvesting beets, they could be compensated to make the situation more equitable with producers who did not harvest and then received more crop insurance than the producers received for harvesting, Hoeven said.

Other language in the bill allows crop insurance and WHIP+ to take into account quality issues — rather than just quantity — when determining eligibility for payments. Hoeven said that is particularly important in crops like wheat, which producers may have been able to combine but was damaged by excess rain or other adverse conditions. He said the bill also clarifies eligible disaster events by including losses related to excess moisture and extreme drought.