February 3, 2006
TFB, other ag groups ask
Texas livestock producers suffering from the effects of prolonged drought and reacting to predictions that it may last into summer are making an uncharacteristic plea for government assistance.
In a Jan. 24 letter to the White House, Secretary of Agriculture and members of the Texas Congressional delegation, leaders of Texas Farm Bureau, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, and the Texas Cattle Feeders Association described the dire circumstances that threaten the Texas cattle industry.
Many parts of Texas in 2005 received the lowest amount of rainfall since the great drought of the 1950s, providing tinder for a devastating series of wildfires that have consumed more than 219,000 acres, destroying fences, barns and homes. News reports have chronicled the heart-rending loss of human life.
"Numbers of cattle injured or killed by fire are difficult to obtain," the letter said, "but we are convinced the number may have exceeded 1,000."
Producers who normally don't have to provide supplemental feed for their cattle until winter were forced to begin feeding hay in the early autumn. Increased demand has diminished hay supplies and pushed prices to triple what they were in August. To conserve forage, producers began marketing calves earlier than normal, selling at lighter weights that cost them millions of dollars. As the impact of drought escalated, many were also forced to sell brood cows that normally would not go to market. Reports from market operators indicate that a significant number of pregnant cows are now being sold.
"This scaling back of the state's brood cow herd will have long-term impacts on ranchers, local communities, feedyards and the state's economy as it shrinks the cattle industry's contribution to the state's economic output for the foreseeable future," the letter said.
Texas Cooperative Extension estimates that agriculture contributes more than $73 billion a year to the Texas economy as products move from the farm to the consumer.
"Out of principle, our organizations are historically reluctant to ask for help," the letter continued, "but our industry faces dire straits. Consequently, we ask Congress and the Administration to seriously consider the following tools to provide assistance:
"1) Livestock Compensation Program (LCP) / Livestock Assistance Program (LAP). We request one of these programs be funded at amounts significant enough to provide all cattle producers in eligible counties with assistance to buffer the economic strain from high feed costs.
"2) Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP). Some ranchers impacted by range fires have lost entire cattle herds. We request this program be funded and available to producers because of losses of cattle due to drought and fire.
"3) Emergency Conservation Program (ECP). We ask that ECP funds be made available to Texas producers to assist them with rebuilding fences and structures burned down by range fires. In addition, we ask that this funding be utilized for providing water for livestock on ranches with diminished water supplies.
"4) Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP). We request this program be funded and available in Texas to restore the natural function of impacted watersheds through such measures as: erosion control, fire prevention and suppression, and vegetation restoration.
"5) Emergency Haying and Grazing. The majority of Texas that is being hit the hardest with drought and range fires does not have substantial acres of CRP. However, we are very grateful for actions taken by USDA to allow haying and grazing in Texas counties that have adequate CRP acres in order to assist parts of the state that have been hardest hit. Understandably, we expect CRP payments to be reduced by an appropriate amount as recommended by the NRCS state technical committee and USDA agencies.
"6) We ask that the appropriate disaster declarations be put in place to allow producers to qualify for the capital gains tax exemption on cattle that have to be sold off due to the drought and fire conditions.
"To put it simply," the ag leaders summarized, "the Texas cattle industry is in serious distress and there is no relief in sight."