In response to Congress’ failure to pass a nearly $4.5 billion agriculture disaster relief package on Tuesday, state Sen. Jeff Rabon on Wednesday said the state must step forward with a comprehensive assistance package for Oklahoma farmers and ranchers.
“Oklahoma livestock producers and farmers are currently facing dire conditions brought on by one of the worst drought periods in state history,” said Rabon, D-Hugo. “This two-year drought cycle has resulted in the poorest wheat crop in decades.”
In September, it was announced the state would receive just $6.5 million from the USDA to be distributed to livestock producers. Oklahoma farmers, however, could be left with nothing following the failure of the federal emergency aid effort, Rabon said. With Oklahoma farmers in the second year of a devastating drought cycle, Rabon added, quick action is necessary.
“I’m disappointed that there wasn’t adequate support for an aid package that would help offset major losses suffered by one of the state’s biggest industries,” Rabon said. “This should be an issue that transcends party lines, and there must be a sense of urgency to get this done at the state level.”
The $4.5 billion disaster relief package, sponsored by U.S. Senator Kent Conrad of South Dakota, was removed from the agenda after failing to pass a point of order. Oklahoma Senators Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn both voted against Conrad’s motion. Rabon said the state should act quickly to assist farmers and ranchers with funding from the state’s current budget surplus of nearly $100 million and with money from the Rainy Day Fund.
Rabon noted that in August, Gov. Brad Henry made appeals to both President Bush and Congress regarding the need for agricultural disaster relief, and Congress’ failure to approve the relief package will delay any action on the issue until Congress reconvenes next year.
Rabon was joined by state Sen. Earl Garrison and state Rep. Terry Hyman in his request for state officials to begin preparing a comprehensive relief package for farmers and ranchers.
“As a rancher myself, I understand the severity of this drought and the effect it’s had,” said Garrison, D-Muskogee. “Farmers and ranchers throughout the state are really suffering – the wheat crop in western Oklahoma was very poor and ranchers who rely on stocker cattle for income are paying exorbitant prices for hay and water lines are continuing to recede. This is one of the state’s biggest industries and I fully support any effort to put together a relief package.”
Hyman noted that even if a relief package is eventually approved, it could take more than a year before Oklahoma farmers receive any funds, making prompt action even more critical.
“The agricultural industry accounts for a great percentage of Oklahoma’s overall economy, and protecting this industry should be a principal concern for any state leader, whether in Oklahoma City or Washington,” said Hyman, D-Leon. “Now that efforts to block federal action on this issue have succeeded, it’s imperative that we put together a funding package to deal with this situation.”