New disaster legislation should be targeted to farmers who need it most without regard to the types of crops they produce, the president of the American Farm Bureau Federation has written in a letter to the sponsors of an ad hoc disaster bill.

Bob Stallman, a farmer from Texas and the AFBF’s president, said his organization is concerned that the bill authored by Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker of Mississippi does not require a loss for eligibility, but rather provides funds to any producer in a disaster area.

“It is quite feasible that someone with no loss at all or someone who has not even planted a crop would receive a payment,” Stallman said. “Given our country’s current budget dilemma, we believe that a loss provision would be prudent.”

Stallman’s letter, which was written Dec. 3, has created controversy among farmers in the Mid-South states whose crops were devastated by more than a month of nearly continuous rainfall during the harvest season for cotton, corn, rice and soybeans.

“We have never had this many people in trouble since the 1980s, judging from what the lenders are telling us,” said a spokesman for the Stoneville, Miss.-based Delta Council, the chamber of commerce organization for the Delta.

The bill introduced by Sens. Cochran, Wicker and Lincoln would provide an estimated $1.3 billion in direct payment assistance to producers in counties declared “primary” disaster areas by USDA. Direct payments, rather than payments from the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program would be used because SURE payments would not be available until January 2011.

Similar legislation to the Cochran-Wicker-Lincoln bill has been introduced by Reps. Marion Berry, D-Ark., and Travis Childers, D-Miss. The Berry-Childers bill also has $650 million to assist specialty crop producers, $150 million for livestock producers and $42 million for first handlers of cottonseed.

“USDA has told us they could deliver the payments in the Cochran and Berry-Childers bills within 14 days,” said a member of the Senate staff. “Under SURE, it would take more than a year for the payments to be made.

Shortly after Stallman’s letter was made public, David Waide, president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, sent a statement to in-state media that tried to further explain the American Farm Bureau’s position.

“Please read the letter very carefully and you will realize, that as a general farm organization, Farm Bureau is not opposed to disaster assistance legislation,” said Waide. “Farm Bureau is making an attempt to see that as many producers’ losses as possible can be included under disaster assistance legislation.

“Furthermore, we realize this type legislation will require a 51 percent vote in the House and Senate. We are attempting to get language in the bill that will garner the 51 percent in both houses. It is imperative that we have the language that includes as many producers as possible.”

Supporters of the Cochran bill note the Congress is tentatively scheduled to adjourn Dec. 18 and that the legislation favored by the three senators and two representatives is ready to be introduced whenever the Senate turns from the health care debate to passage of appropriations legislation for the 2010 fiscal year.

e-mail: flaws@farmpress.com