Texas congressmen Mike Conaway, Randy Neugebauer and Henry Bonilla, Chairman of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, have urged both houses of Congress to pass a drought relief package for farmers across the nation.

“During August, I had the opportunity to make it to most of the 27 counties in my district in West Texas,” Neugebauer said.

“What I saw made it clear that this devastating drought is severe and widespread. Because there is not an adequate crop insurance program in place that can help protect farmers against these droughts, I'm calling on both the House and the Senate to act swiftly to pass an emergency drought relief package that will get real help to America's producers.”

Conaway made his case at a recent press conference with Senator John Thune (R-S,D.) and congressman Jerry Moran (R-Kan).

“Severe natural disasters have seriously impacted farmers and livestock producers throughout the nation,” Conaway said. “The state of Texas has been no exception and has been hit particularly hard by drought and destructive range fires. These disasters have led to extremely adverse conditions in the agriculture industry. We appreciate the recent relief provided by the United States Department of Agriculture in using existing authorities to address the critical needs facing producers, however much more must be done. We must provide real disaster relief to our producers.”

Conaway serves on the House Agriculture Committee.

Neugebauer cited several examples as proof for the need to pass drought relief package. Specifically, he pointed to estimates out of the Texas Cooperative Extension Office that show that the drought has caused $4.1 billion in crop and livestock losses in Texas this year.

According to the Texas Wheat Producers Association, the state's wheat farmers are looking at their smallest crop in 35 years. And in the High Plains region of West Texas alone, Plains Cotton Growers Inc., figures predict more than a million acres of dryland cotton will be lost to the drought.

The Economic Research Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture said that higher input costs and the drought could help cause the nation's net farm income to drop by as much as $20 billion this year.

“When piled on top of the high energy prices that producers had to deal with this year, 2006 is shaping up to be one nightmare of a year for U.S. agriculture,” Neugebauer said.

Bonilla joined a bipartisan, bicameral delegation along with several agricultural organizations at a press conference highlighting the need for disaster assistance for farmers and ranchers in Texas and across the country. Bonilla was joined by at least a dozen other members of the House and Senate Agriculture and Agricultural Appropriations Committees, including Neugebauer and Conaway. Leaders from the American Farm Bureau, National Farmers Union, National Association of

Wheat Growers, National Grain Sorghum Producers and National Corn Growers Association also were on hand representing millions of farmers and ranchers across the United States.

“The time for assistance is now,” said Bonilla. “Our nation was founded on the economic backbone of the agricultural industry. We must provide our producers with an adequate safety net to ensure their survival. As I travel my district it is amazing to see the

resilience of our producers in the face of these natural disasters. However, while farmers and ranchers have planned for bad days as well as good, producers can never be fully prepared for a prolonged drought and other persistent natural catastrophes.”

According to Texas A&M University, the drought has cost the state of Texas more than $4 billion and the longer it persists, the more it will cost. The devastating results of the drought, wildfires, winds and floods have affected not only farmers and ranchers but also the rural communities that depend on the agriculture industry. Other estimates put the financial costs on the communities at twice that of the producers, roughly $8 billion.

“There is a tremendous need in this country for agricultural disaster assistance and few states have been hit as hard as Texas,” said Bonilla. “Texas producers are suffering not only the persistent drought and devastating wildfires across the state, but also from flooding and wind damage from hurricanes.”

He said assistance must go to farmers and ranchers hit hardest by the events of the last two years.

e-mail: rsmith@farmpress.com