For the past few months, Texas has endured what some experts have deemed the worst natural disaster in this century: severe drought. American farmers and their families are now facing a tough struggle. The devastating drought and historical heat wave have left the Lone Star State parched and have caused billions of dollars in damage and profit loss to the agricultural sector.
The impact of the drought is apparent. As a result of the lack of rainfall, increasingly high winds, and rampant range fires, farmers and ranchers have lost over 650,000 acres of land. According to Texas Cooperative Extension economists, crop and livestock losses have reached a record $4.1 billion this year alone, nearly double the $2.1 billion mark set in 1998. In addition, the projected loss for rural businesses that provide equipment and services to Texas farmers is $3.9 billion. Worried farmers are running out of savings and options with the drought that has left both crops and businesses dry.
Although it is difficult to quantify the many adverse economic, social, and environmental consequences of the drought, it is apparent that preparedness and relief efforts require improvement and that our state’s farmers and their families need immediate assistance. After more than 150 Texas counties were declared disaster areas, the United States Department of Agriculture and the Small Business Administration intervened by providing some relief for those affected through low-interest emergency disaster loans. These loans help offset economic losses due to reduced revenues that were caused by such adverse weather conditions. In the 28th Congressional District, small businesses in Atascosa, Bexar, Frio, Guadalupe, LaSalle, McMullen, Webb, Wilson, and Zapata Counties have already qualified for this critical assistance. Another important program offered by the USDA is the recently announced federal Livestock Assistance Grant Program. This program allocates $16.1 million in assistance for 216 drought-stressed Texas counties. Under this program, producers are eligible for up to $10,000 in assistance to address expenses such as the cost of lost forage, supplemental feeding, relocating of livestock and the cost of emergency water supplies. Despite these important first steps, more needs to be done.
I am currently working in Congress to develop and enact much-needed emergency natural disaster assistance legislation. In April, I was pleased to be an original co-sponsor of the Emergency Disaster Assistance Act of 2006. This new bi-partisan legislation provides disaster assistance to farmers and ranchers who have experienced weather-related crop losses, loss of livestock, and damage to livestock feed supplies. The bill also addresses the overwhelming energy expenses endured by farmers following last year’s hurricanes. I have also appealed to the House Committee on Appropriations to put in place appropriate declarations that allow producers to be exempt from the capitol gains tax on the sale of cattle which they have been forced to sell due to drought and fire conditions, and I have asked USDA’s Risk Management Agency to modify its appraisal procedure used to assess crop losses in non-irrigated corn and sorghum crops and non-emerged cotton in South and Central Texas so that producers can better manage expenses and cropping succession.
As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, I remain committed to finding real solutions for farmers, ranchers, rural businesspersons, and rural citizens to manage today’s economic challenges. Together, America can do better.