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Lawmakers: “We respectfully request USDA explore all potential flexibilities for additional relief within existing programs and identify other options to deliver federal relief to producers in our states so they have the resources to overcome the extreme drought and heat crisis”

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(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (WA-01) led a bipartisan, bicameral effort to secure more relief for farmers, ranchers, shellfish growers, and other agricultural producers in the western United States affected by historic wildfires, droughts, and extreme heat. In a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the lawmakers urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to open relief programs up to more producers that have lost crops and livestock to the ongoing droughts, extreme heat, and wildfires.

In addition to droughts and wildfires, an extreme heatwave hit the Pacific Northwest in June with temperatures reaching as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit. In response, Secretary Vilsack issued several disaster designations, unlocking vital federal resources. However, many of the producers who suffered the greatest heat-related losses were either located in counties not covered by the drought designations, experienced losses not covered by drought assistance programs, or both.

“Although the extent of damages relating to the extreme heat has yet to be fully determined, agricultural producers expect these impacts to be severe,” the lawmakers wrote. “We respectfully request USDA explore all potential flexibilities for additional relief within existing programs and identify other options to deliver federal relief to producers in our states so they have the resources to overcome the extreme drought and heat crisis.”

Reports across the Pacific Northwest and Western states indicate berry crops, tree fruits, grain and pulse crops, potatoes, hops, dairy products, forage crops, wine grapes, nursery crops, poultry, beef cattle, and general livestock experienced excessive heat impacts to yield and quality. Specific examples of the impact of these extreme weather events include:

  • Raspberry, blueberry, and blackberry farmers are reporting widespread losses of 20 to 80 percent of their crops and harm to the canes that will produce next year’s crop.
  • Cherry growers in the west have so far lost an estimated 20 percent of their overall crop.
  • Early modeling for shellfish suggests an estimated 1 billion sea creatures died along the Salish Sea’s coastline with reported mortality rates for certain shellfish farmers up to 90 percent.
  • For some crops including apples and pears, the full extent of losses may not be known until harvest in the fall, or even later if damage manifests in storage.

The letter also encourages USDA to work with Congress to provide technical assistance as lawmakers craft additional authorities and appropriations to address the 2020 and 2021 seasons that include wildfire, drought, and excessive heat-related losses.

The letter is signed by Senators Steve Daines (R-ID), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), John Hoeven (R-ND), James Risch (R-ID), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Representatives Dan Newhouse (WA-04), Kim Schrier (WA-08), Mike Simpson (ID-02), Kelly Armstrong (ND-At-Large), Cliff Bentz (OR-02), Ami Bera (CA-07), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Julia Brownley (CA-26), Salud Carbajal (CA-24), Liz Cheney (WY-At-Large), Peter DeFazio (OR-04), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-03), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Derek Kilmer (WA-06), Rick Larsen (WA-02), Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Doris Matsui (CA-06), Betty McCollum (MN-04), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05), Jerry McNerney (CA-09), Joe Neguse (CO-02), Devin Nunes (CA-22), Jimmy Panetta (CA-20), Matt Rosendale (MT-At-Large), Kurt Schrader (OR-05), Adam Smith (WA-09), Marilyn Strickland (WA-10), and Mike Thompson (CA-05).  

The full letter can be found here.

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