by Philip Brasher, CQ Roll Call Staff
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack briefed President Obama on the drought today and afterward called on Congress to act to aid livestock producers by passing a new farm bill or reviving expired disaster assistance programs. Vilsack also suggested a third option – providing aid through USDA’s Commodity Credit Corp.
“Our tools are somewhat limited, so we’re going to need to work with Congress to provide opportunities either through the passage of the the food, farm and jobs bill or though additional disaster programs or through perhaps additional flexibility in the Commodity Credit Corp.,” Vilsack said, speaking at the White House daily press briefing after the meeting with Obama.
Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont. last week introduced legislation to extend several disaster aid programs to cover losses from the drought and Western wildfires. The farm bill’s future is unclear this year.
Vilsack indicated there was no need for EPA to consider rolling back the ethanol usage mandate for this year “There’s no problem in that area at this time.” He also said the corn crop could still be the third largest in history, in part because of seed technology that makes plants more resistant to drought. ”We just have to wait and see what our yields are going to be,” he said.
Retail meat prices may decline temporarily as livestock producers liquidate herds but prices will likely rise later this year into 2013, he said.
Vilsack designated 39 additional counties in eight states as primary disaster areas due to the drought. There are now 1,297 counties in 29 states listed as disaster areas, which qualifies producers for low-interest loans. The latest counties added are in Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming.