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Farm Bill Cooking Up in Congress as MT Roasts

July 16, 2007

It's kind of crispy out there, with many Montana farmers watching fields wither in temperatures not usually expected until next month. It's just the kind of unforeseen weather disaster that could ruin crop profits leaving farmers to wait up to two years for help from Congress.

But help could come sooner under the next farm bill. The U.S. House is getting down to the details this week, and a permanent disaster fund is part of the plan. Montana Farmers Union President Alan Merrill says he's optimistic.

“I think both the House and the Senate are leaning towards a disaster relief fund. They already have the records, so it's very easy.”

Merrill notes that the Farm Service Agency keeps statistics on crop damage that could be used to determine payments from a permanent disaster fund. Right now, farmers and ranchers have to wait for Congress to fund each round of disasters.

National Farmers Union President Tom Buis says the farm bill is a complicated piece of legislation that covers agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and rural economic development. He adds that it's a tricky juggling act this time because federal money for domestic spending is tight.

“As everyone knows, they're trying to write a farm bill with far less money than we had five years ago, in order to protect the safety net of farmers.”

The U.S. House starts work on the farm bill Tuesday.

Deborah Smith/Eric Mack, Public News Service - MT