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Senators propose revival of U.S. farm disaster-relief programs

A sprinkler is in use near Dodge City, Kansas, November 26, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Murphy
A sprinkler is in use near Dodge City, Kansas, November 26, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Murphy

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congress would revive disaster-relief programs for farmers and ranchers hurt by drought and other natural catastrophes under a stop-gap bill introduced on Friday by two key Senate committee leaders.

Producers could get up to $100,000 each for losses in 2012 and this year. In particular, ranchers would benefit because they do not have access to federally subsidized insurance, as farmers do for their crops.

The bundle of disaster programs, covering livestock, tree and fruit and vegetable producers, ran out of money in 2011. Attempts to restart them last year failed.

Democratic Senators Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Max Baucus of Montana filed the legislation, along with Republican Roy Blunt of Missouri. Stabenow chairs the Agriculture Committee and Baucus chairs the Finance Committee. Blunt is the Republican leader on the appropriations subcommittee for agriculture.

"We cannot allow farmers to be wiped out because of a few days of bad weather," said Stabenow. The co-sponsors said their bill would keep disaster programs running while Congress writes a new five-year farm bill.

When the House of Representatives considered a one-year agricultural disaster bill last summer, the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would cost $383 million. An estimate of the cost of the latest bill was not immediately available.

Farmers and ranchers were hit in 2012 by the worst drought in 56 years. At its worst, the drought covered two-thirds of the continental United States, including prime land in the Plains and the Corn Belt. Corn production fell by 12 percent from 2011.

(Reporting by Charles Abbott; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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