Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday he prays for rain every day, but farmers need action from Congress more than prayers to ease the effects of a drought that is affecting nearly two-thirds of the U.S.
“I get on my knees every day,” Mr. Vilsack told reporters at the White House. “And I’m saying an extra prayer now. If I had a rain prayer or a rain dance I could do, I would do it. But honestly, right now the focus needs to be on working with Congress.”
The worst drought in 25 years is affecting corn, soybean and other crops in more than 1,300 counties in dozens of states. The administration is seeking help from lawmakers in forging greater flexibility in disaster-relief programs. President Obama also has ordered that interest rates on low-interest government loans for farmers in affected areas be lowered from 3.75 percent to 2.25 percent.
Mr. Vilsack said lawmakers “have the capacity to help these producers by creating greater flexibility in the programs, providing us some direction in terms of whether disaster assistance can be revived.”
The agriculture secretary said the drought could actually lower prices for beef, poultry and pork in the short-term as farmers slaughter more livestock rather than pay higher prices for scarce feed. And he said the corn crop is still on target to be the third-largest in U.S. history. But Mr. Vilsack said the crisis will eventually cause a rise in grocery prices, most likely in early 2013.