Southern lawmakers seek emergency aid for farmers

NEW ORLEANS — Some Southern lawmakers are seeking billions of dollars in emergency aid for farmers after recent natural disaster declarations in at least 20 states.

A farm disaster program authorized by Congress last year still isn’t fully in place, and even if it was, some lawmakers say its design could keep many farmers with losses this year waiting for help until January 2011. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s disaster declarations allow farmers affected by weather ranging from hail to volcanic emissions to seek low-interest loans or other assistance, but some debt-laden farmers say the last thing they need is another loan.

In Louisiana and Mississippi, early season drought and late-season rains compounded the losses many growers suffered due to the 2008 hurricanes. Lawmakers from Mississippi and Arkansas are helping lead a push for at least $2.1 billion in emergency farm aid and hope to gain approval by year’s end from a Congress that has been focused on other spending packages and the health care debate.

“I believe we have a good argument for providing direct payments to farmers whose crops have been ruined this year by floods, drought and other disaster conditions,” said Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss