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April 05, 2001   Email to Friend 

Jeff Helms
April 05, 2001

About 100 farmers were on hand March 26 for a new conference in Belle Mina where Sen. Jeff Sessions, center, unveiled legislation designed to help farmers cope with high energy costs. Among those present were, from left, Alabama Farmers Federation Greenhouse, Nursery and Sod State Committee Members Tommy Loder of Cherokee County and Jerry Sibley of Lawrence County and Federation State Poultry Committee Members Jimmy Glenn of Lawrence County and Dennis Maze of Blount County.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) has unveiled legislation designed to provide one-time financial aid to poultry producers, greenhouse operators, cattlemen and row crop farmers who have been hard hit by this winter's high energy costs.

Sessions discussed the legislation at a Belle Mina news conference March 26 that included Assistant Commissioner Ron Sparks and several poultry producers and farmers. "High energy prices have affected every American household this year," said Sessions. "These high prices also have had an extraordinary impact on the agriculture industry, and some producers are having trouble making their mortgage payments because of their energy bills. Chronically low commodity prices, several years of bad weather, and now high energy costs have squeezed our farmers to the breaking point."

Sessions' bill would authorize the Secretary of Agriculture to use already appropriated dollars from the USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation to provide relief to farmers and ranchers who are facing high energy costs. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the proposal would cost between $1.48 billion and $7 billion. The CCC budget totals $30 billion.

Unlike other businesses, poultry farmers don't have the ability to pass their costs of production on to consumers. Growers are responsible for paying their own utility bills, and the price they receive for their product is set when they sign a contract, regardless of how much it costs to raise their chickens.

"Some poultry growers in Alabama have spent more for propane in two months this year than they did in all of 2000," said Sessions.The average poultry producer with four chicken houses may spend between $8,000 and $13,000 more for propane this year than in 2000. That money comes out of the producer's pocket.

Sessions said row crop farmers and cattlemen also are experiencing higher fertilizer costs this spring due to high natural gas prices. Natural gas accounts for 80 percent to 90 percent of the cost of producing nitrogen fertilizer.

"A long-term solution must be found, but this legislation will provide much-needed relief in the short-term for American farmers," Sessions said.

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, is chief Senate co-sponsor of Sessions' bill. Similar legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.).

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