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$8.7 Billion in Emergency Aid Awaits Farmers

October 04, 1999
By: Mamie Smith
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - When you ask Jay Turner, a farmer in Boone County, to describe his crops he says they don't look so great and neither do prices.

"We have low prices and low yields," said Turner. "It doesn't get a whole lot worse than that."

An emergency farm aid package totaling $8.7 billion is working its way through Congress to help farmers deal with the low prices and the extreme dry weather. The bill passed through the House and a Senate vote is expected soon, possibly this week.

"We hope to get the money out this fall because there is terrible hardship in the community," said U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo.

Farmers across the country would receive about $5.5 billion in direct payments and $1.2 billion in emergency aid for crop loss due to disaster such as drought. The remaining money will provide assistance to various commodities.

"It is to early to speculate on when the aid could be administered," said Public Affairs Farm Service spokesman Matt Kilbourne.

Turner does not expect that the promised money will supply much relief for his farm because he is not totally reliant on row-crops such as corn and soybeans for his income.

Much of the federal aid is directed at row-crop losses.

Last week, Gov. Mel Carnahan announced all 114 counties in Missouri are eligible for agricultural disaster aid due to the hot, dry weather that engulfed most of the state since July.

The disaster aid makes Missouri farmers eligible to apply for low interest loans, which can be used to restore or replace property, cover production costs and pay for family expenses.

Even though short-term relief is on its way, the National Farmers Union (NFU) argues Congress should be looking for ways to help farmers in the long-term.

The NFU in a statement said that the farm aid package is just a "quick-fix" to address the farm crisis and real changes need to be made to the Freedom to Farm bill.

"One thing we have been pressing for is a stronger safety net," said NFU spokeswoman Erika Batcheller.

A stronger safety net would supply help for farmers when times are bad, Batcheller said. She said another way to help farmers in the long term is for the government to set up programs to deal with the supply of grain released on the market through an inventory management program.

Turner said you never turn away help when you need it, but that it is better if farmers can take care of themselves. He suggested the best way the government could help farmers is by breaking up the large agriculture corporations that are narrowing markets.

"It takes a lot of time," Turner stressed. He said nothing will change overnight.