Statement by Assistant to the President for Press Relations Fitzwater on the President's Meeting on the Drought Situation

 

July 25, 1988

 

The President met at 2 p.m. this afternoon with Secretary of Agriculture Richard Lyng; Secretary of Interior Donald Hodel; and Director of the Office of Management and Budget James Miller, to discuss Secretary Lyng's 10-State tour of Midwestern drought areas. Secretary Lyng said his interagency drought task force had visited 13 farms during the tour and received an extensive briefing by the Army Corps of Engineers on water levels in the Mississippi River. Secretary Lyng presented the President with pictures the group had taken of corn damage in several States. The Secretary said: ``Pasture and hay are in very bad condition, causing real problems for livestock farmers. Even the best corn is not in very good shape. The rains of last week are helping, but it may be too late for corn to recover. Some soybeans will recover, but there still will be large losses.'' The Secretary said it would probably be another month before the Government can make hard estimates of crop losses.

 

The President asked about the status of drought legislation now before the Congress. The Secretary said he is still working on a bipartisan basis to develop acceptable legislation. The administration is fighting Christmas tree amendments that have been added to the bill. But he was optimistic that bipartisan agreement would be reached. The President urged congressional action as soon as possible. He recalled his visit to Illinois cornfields 2 weeks ago and asked if there had been any improvement. The Secretary indicated that even the best corn was still far inferior to normal crops.

 

The Agriculture Department has now approved Federal lands comprising about 2,100 counties in 41 States for emergency haying and grazing. Also, the Department has approved about 1,100 counties in 31 States for the Emergency Feed Program (provides eligible livestock producers with a 50-percent cost share on forage and hay) and the Emergency Feed Assistance Program (provides eligible producers the opportunity to purchase Commodity Credit Corporation inventory grain at 75 percent of the loan rate). The Department has now authorized haying on Water Bank Program acres in 189 counties in 11 States. Disaster declarations now cover 433 counties in 5 States.

 

President Reagan is today sending a letter to the ranking members of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees, commending them for their work on behalf of drought legislation.