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President Briefed on Drought Conditions

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While USDA Under Secretary Michael Scuse was touring farms in Allen and White counties, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was briefing President Obama on the drought conditions gripping the Midwest. Following his meeting with the President, Vilsack told reporters, “He is very well informed on the circumstances surrounding a very serious drought — the most serious situation we’ve had probably in 25 years — across the country.  Sixty-one percent of the land mass of the United States is currently being characterized as being impacted by this drought.”

 

The Secretary said the administration has responded quickly to the worst drought in decades, “The first thing we did was to streamline the disaster declaration system and process, reducing the amount of time it takes to have a county designated.  That means that producers in those counties and adjoining counties are able to access low-interest loans.”   He added that, in addition, the interest rates on those loans has been lowered, “The President instructed us to reduce the interest rate from 3.75 percent to 2.25 percent.  He also instructed us to open up new opportunities for haying and grazing — our livestock producers are in deep trouble because of the drought.  They don’t have anyplace for their cattle.  They are looking at very high feed costs.  So we are opening up areas under the Conservation Reserve Program for emergency haying and grazing.”

 

White House reporters pressed the Secretary on the impact the drought will have on food prices.  Vilsack responded, “It’s important to note that farmers only receive 14 cents of every food dollar that goes through the grocery store; so even though prices on commodities increase significantly, it doesn’t necessarily translate into large increases for food prices.  And if, in fact, people are beginning to see food price increases now, it is not in any way, shape, or form, related to the drought.”

 

With the current USDA disaster relief program suspended because a new Farm Bill has not been passed, Vilsack took the opportunity to put pressure on lawmakers to move quickly on passage of the legislation, “This drought will provide some degree of uncertainty, but the most important thing is for Congress to take action to provide some direction and assistance so that folks know what’s going to happen, what kind of protection they’re going to have.  That certainty is really important.  And that’s whether they want to get to work on the Food, Farm and Jobs bill, they want to develop a separate disaster program or an extension of existing programs, whatever it might be — having that done as soon as possible will be quite helpful.”



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