Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Today: President Obama To Discuss Drought Response With White House Rural Council

UPDATE: CLICK HERE for the post about the meeting
With drought conditions of varying intensity now covering nearly two-thirds of the continental US, President Obama will meet with members of the White House Rural Council on Tuesday afternoon "to discuss ongoing efforts in response to the drought," the White House said on Monday evening. The meeting will be at 4:15 PM in the Roosevelt Room.

The Rural Council is chaired by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack; the President last met with the Secretary for a drought briefing on July 18th. (Above, the Oval Office meeting)

In the interim, the Administration has put into place a series of actions to respond to the drought (see below). Members of the Rural Council are staff who work on the White House Domestic Policy Council, including Rural Affairs Senior Policy Advisor Doug McKalip, as well as representatives from agencies across the federal government. But a complete, up-to-date list of all members has not been released for 2012.

Tuesday's meeting will have "a pool spray" for media, meaning the President's press pool will be allowed in briefly to take photos and perhaps get a comment or two. With the threat of a spike in food and fuel prices due to the drought, the Administration's response is now a hot political topic for the President's re-election campaign.

In a drought update posted on Monday for the week ending August 5, USDA reported that drought conditions are "covering nearly two-thirds of the US," and noted that "as cooler weather and scattered showers arrived across the Corn Belt late last week, Midwestern drought intensity appears to have reached a plateau."

Still, "well over half (59%) of the nation’s rangeland and pastures were rated in very poor to poor condition—a record for this statistic during the 18-year period of record," USDA said, adding that "recovery from this summer’s extraordinarily hot, dry weather will be a lengthy process, requiring the change of seasons and multiple soaking rainfall events—not just occasional showers."

Sans the President, Vilsack hosted a drought meeting on the White House campus for Rural Council members and stakeholders on July 27th.

Administration drought response...

According to USDA, "following President Obama’s instructions of using existing programs to support struggling farmers and ranchers," the department has responded to the drought by:

*Streamlining drought disaster declarations directly from Drought Monitor data

*Allowing nearly 30 million acres under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to be used for emergency haying or grazing

*Lowering payment reduction for CRP lands that qualify for emergency haying and grazing in 2012, from 25% to 10%

*Allowing producers to modify current Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) contracts to allow for grazing, livestock watering and other conservation activities to address drought conditions

*Authorizing haying and grazing of Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) easement area in drought-affected areas where haying and grazing is consistent with conservation of wildlife habitat and wetlands

*Reducing the interest rate for Farm Service Agency (FSA) Emergency loans from 3.75% to 2.25%

CLICK HERE for the latest on USDA's drought response, and CLICK HERE for the latest update on conditions.

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*Photo by Pete Souza/White House