Valley Ag leaders weigh in on President Obama's drought plan

Valley Ag leaders weighed in on the president's drought aid one day after his historic visit.
February 15, 2014 10:50:36 PM PST
Valley Ag leaders weighed in on the president's drought aid one day after his historic visit. Many Ag leaders believe President Obama's drought plan will help in the short-term but they say long-term solutions are still needed.

The president's plan offers direct relief to ranchers and food banks. These funds will soon be available. However, Ag leaders say the long-term solutions California needs will probably need to go through both sides of Capitol Hill.

President Obama's first visit to Fresno came with a simple message to Californians hit hardest by the drought. Financial relief is on its way. One-hundred million dollars in federal funds are being offered to ranchers, who have been hit by the prolonged drought.

Mark Thompson with Fresno-Kings County Cattlemen's Association said there are hundreds in the state that have suffered financially.

"Without rain, they've had to do something to feed their cattle, so haystacks have dwindled and cash reserves have also dwindled, because they needed to spend more money for hay than they ever anticipated," Thompson said.

The federal relief funds to farmers were made available through the farm bill, but the White House is promising to quicken the delivery--it could be available by April.

"That's an awful lot of money, but I think the key question is will it be in time," Thompson said. "Guys are right up against the wire right now. It's been a tough, tough year for them."

Ryan Jacobsen of the Fresno County Farm Bureau said in the past, federal relief funds have been administered through local USDA offices. He expects it to be done that way again.

Jacobsen said the area should also benefit greatly from the millions of dollars the president is promising to local food banks, which he expects will soon have an expanded role in communities.

"It's very crucial for them. It's yet to be announced but in the next few weeks we expect the Bureau of Reclamation will make a zero percent water allocation for farmers in the Westside," Jacobsen said.

Without water Jacobsen expects many agriculture jobs to dry up as well.

"Back in 09, we saw what happened, anywhere from 40 to 50 percent unemployment in these communities, and we expect the same if not much worse this year," Jacobsen said.

Several farmers and ranchers say they wanted the president to address water policies as well as infrastructure pertaining to water storage in California. Ag leaders say the long term solutions lie in those issues.

Currently there are two bills in congress that address those concerns.

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