U.S. Rep. Travis Childers said he fears it will be tough for many Mississippi farmers, hit first by drought and then by drenching rains, to survive financially without emergency help from Congress.
Childers, D-Miss., is among the Southern lawmakers seeking at least $2.1 billion in aid for farmers and ranchers affected by adverse weather this year. The lawmakers say existing federal programs cannot provide the help needed fast enough, and it could be a year before a disaster program, authorized in the 2008 federal farm bill but not yet fully in place, provides payments.
Childers said lawmakers are seeking "any avenue" to pass legislation, pending in both houses of Congress, that eyes money available through the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program to cover the cost. With the end of the year fast approaching, and legislators eager to get out of Washington for the holidays, he said "time is really our biggest enemy right now."
"We understood this was going to be a fight. I don't mind putting on my boxing gloves," Childers said Monday from his northern Mississippi district, where he held farmers' forums with U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Undersecretary Michael Scuse.
Unrelenting rains in September and October delayed harvest across much of Mississippi and Louisiana, leading to sweet potatoes rotting in fields, cotton molding in areas and soybeans so soggy that some farmers have reported elevators turning them away. For many farmers, the losses compounded those sustained in 2008's hurricanes.
Mississippi cotton farmers only last week finished their harvest, according to USDA.
Preliminary estimates by agricultural economists at Mississippi State University show growers in the state stand to lose $443.8 million in revenue for major row crops.