Aide: Emergency help for farmers not likely in '09

NEW ORLEANS — U.S. farmers hit hard by drought, drenching rains or other disasters in 2009 shouldn’t expect emergency aid from Congress this year.

Chris Gallegos, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, said the House didn’t act on legislation before representatives left Washington for the holiday break — and that means the soonest a package could be approved is next year.

He said Wednesday that the urgency to secure the aid remains and Cochran, a Mississippi Republican, would work with other lawmakers “to move this forward, as soon as we can.”

Cochran is among the Southern lawmakers seeking at least $2.1 billion in emergency aid for farmers, some of whom, in states such as Louisiana and Mississippi, are dealing with their second straight year of weather-related crop losses.

The lawmakers argue that existing federal programs can’t provide the help needed fast enough and say it could be a year before a disaster program authorized as part of the 2008 federal farm bill and still being implemented provides payments.

Recent estimates by agricultural economists at Louisiana State and Mississippi State universities show farmers in those states stand to lose a combined total of more than $800 million in revenue for major row crops due to late-season drenching rains. For some producers, 2009 losses simply compound those suffered last year due to hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

There are concerns about whether some hard-hit farmers can secure the financing necessary to plant next year. While federal disaster declarations allow farmers affected by adverse weather to seek low-interest loans and other aid, some farmers already laden with debt are reluctant to take on another loan.

Becky Bohrer/The Associated Press