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Texas farmers, ranchers wait for drought aid

AUSTIN, Texas (AP)--U.S. Department of Agriculture officials say drought-stricken Texas farmers and ranchers will have to wait until the fall for their share of $3 billion in federal assistance.

The Austin American-Statesman reported July 18 that Texas lawmakers say the delay is unacceptable as crop losses mount from a punishing drought.

The Supplemental Revenue Assistance program is part of the $290 billion farm bill approved by Congress in 2008.

The program reimburses farmers 60 percent of their losses, but the USDA says money for 2008 losses would not be disbursed until October or November. Losses from 2009 will be paid in 2010.

In a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack addressing this year's delay, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn wrote that "these producers have done all that USDA has asked of them in order to prove their dire conditions and confirm eligibility, and yet they wait.''

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said in an e-mailed statement that she met July 17 with the Texas Farm Bureau. Hutchison said immediate assistance would give farmers and ranchers "the help they need to make it through the current drought.''

Texas ranchers lost $569 million from November to March, according to the Texas AgriLife Extension Service. When livestock losses from earlier in 2008 are added, the total is $829 million.

Gov. Rick Perry announced July 16 that he had declared 167 Texas counties to be in a state of disaster because of the extreme fire hazard caused by the drought.

Federal declarations of emergency can pave the way for farmers and ranchers to seek low-interest loans. But in an April 27 letter to Perry, Vilsack said the USDA couldn't accurately determine agriculture production losses for 184 counties.

Texas farmers and ranchers have received $4.6 million in emergency loan funding this fiscal year, USDA spokesman Caleb Weaver said. He added that, starting next week, ranchers nationwide will begin to receive payments through the Livestock Indemnity Program, which compensates ranchers for livestock deaths caused by natural disaster.

Chuck Herrick, 64, who owns land in Bastrop and Caldwell counties in central Texas, said he and other ranchers have suffered from the drought since 2006 and the financial impact has been crushing. Herrick was forced to sell most of his cattle, even as he watched prices fall.

"There wasn't anything for them to eat,'' Herrick said, because the lack of rain left once-green pastures dry and brittle.

The Texas Department of Agriculture in 2006 paid Herrick about $250 for his livestock losses, an amount he called "insulting.''



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