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Washington, DCU.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today delivered a speech on the floor of the Senate in favor of an agricultural relief package that would aid California dairy producers who lost thousands of cattle in the 2006 heat wave and growers who lost crops in the January freeze.

The disaster relief package is included in the Supplemental Appropriations Bill under debate today. An amendment seeks to strip the California relief funding from the package, which Senator Feinstein vigorously opposes.

Senator Feinstein noted that the United States has gone three years without a disaster relief package – despite a string of events that have ravaged the nation’s farmlands.

Following is the text of Senator Feinstein’s remarks today:

“We in America try to take care of our own, not only people in other nations, but people who have been the victims of real disaster in this country. And the fact of the matter is, we haven’t been doing it for three years, and the disasters have piled up. 2005, 2006, 2007. Three years.

This package takes care of that problem.

In my state, California, we suffered two devastating disasters in the last two years. They’ve resulted in federal disaster declarations. A heat wave, a freeze and even a drought.

Governor Schwarzenegger recently certified, through March 13, a loss from the freeze of $1.397 billion. And total damages have yet to be figured.

I think people don’t understand how big this was in California. We have losses in 35 out of 58 counties - many the most productive in the country - that produce the most agricultural products, more than 22 other states, and some 40 different types of crops.
They include avocados, strawberries, grapes, walnuts, guavas, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, artichokes, asparagus, and celery.

There’s so far $817 million in damage to California’s citrus crops – lemons, limes, mandarins, grapefruit, Navel oranges and Valencias – dead in the field.

Now most people know that Florida has oranges, but what they don’t know, those are the oranges that you drink juice from.

When you eat an orange, when you eat a tangerine or a grapefruit, or you put a lemon in your iced tea, those fruits are from California. But not this year. We’ve lost at least 50 percent of the Navel orange crop, 65 percent of the Valencia crop, and 65 percent of the Mandarins.

 My farmers need this assistance.

Some of my colleagues are asking, ‘Why do we need to provide this funding? Farmers should have their own insurance.’

And the answer is, in California, most farmers already do. But here’s the rub – it’s not going to nearly be enough to cover the damage.

Let me provide an example: According to the Department of Agriculture’s risk management agency, citrus growers will be able to collect up to $311 million in crop insurance. Now that sounds like a lot. But the farming costs for California’s citrus industry for this year’s operations alone total $560 million.

Now what do I mean by farming costs? This is the amount farmers have spent to irrigate, spray, prune – everything that’s necessary to prepare a crop for harvest.

Aha, but this year, there is no harvest.

Therefore, they absorb the $560 million. They’ve also got to begin to get ready for next year’s harvest, get their loans. That will also be an incurrence of $560 million in normal farming costs.

That adds up to $1.2 billion in regular farming costs, and only $311 million in available insurance that they can recoup. So there’s no crop next year, either.

Add on to that the $100 million these growers spent in January, on wind machines, irrigation, other methods to protect their orchards from the freezing temperatures.

Now, 85 percent of citrus (in California) is grown by family farmers -- that’s just a fact – not the big agricultural combines.

 These are responsible farmers. In fact, 75 percent of the citrus acres in California are insured. But, again, insurance doesn’t cover the cost. And that’s why we need this assistance.

When some people saw that there was also an appropriation for dairy milk loss, some people actually laughed, and I was really offended, because in July of ’06, California experienced two weeks of blistering triple-digit temperatures.

For twelve days, the San Joaquin Valley – the most productive agricultural region of this country – had temperatures over 105 degrees.

Now, what does this mean? 20,552 cows died. 10,738 calves died. Those are counted animals – over 30,000 dead animals – and that doesn’t include a poultry loss.

There were so many dead carcasses, the rendering plants could not handle the load. The state temporarily lifted the ban on burying dead livestock in landfills. But that was still not enough.

These cows died because of the heat.

 Even the cows that survived produced 25 percent less milk than is normal. So the death of these animals, plus the stress put on the ones still producing, resulted in more than $228 million in milk losses for dairymen.

In addition, because regular breeding could not take place for a month, because of the death of so many animals, my farmers will again face at least $228 million in losses for 2007.

 That’s why my colleague, Senator Barbara Boxer, has joined with me in helping us push for the addition of this into our Emergency Supplemental.

This is a total of $460 million in losses. We are asking for just $95 million. And that’s in this Supplemental. And what’s more, this funding can be accessed by dairymen on the Gulf Coast, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, who also suffered losses.

Let me conclude: This has not been easy, and I really want to thank Senator Byrd, Senator Dorgan, Senator Kohl, Senator Conrad and Senator Reid for their work on this Agricultural Disaster package.

And also on the Republican leadership on the Appropriations Committee that acceded to the request.

America’s a great nation, and one of the reasons we’re a great nation is that we don’t only care about others, we care about our own.

 If there’s ever a time when we can help our own, it’s in this Supplemental Appropriation.

 So what I say is, hands off, please.

We’ve worked hard to get where we are. The losses have been substantial, the disasters have been large, and families that can’t pay their mortgages, that lose their boats if they’re fisherman, lose their farms if they can’t make the payments, can be helped by this.

So I hope it remains in, I hope we resist an effort to remove this from the Supplemental package. Again, I thank those who’ve helped with this. Mr. President, I yield the floor.”