Can Farm Bill Rescue California From the Worst Drought in 100 Years?



California is in the midst of one of the worst droughts its seen in over 100 years, according to White House Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack. As a result of the agricultural industry’s dire need of assistance, President Barack Obama is headed to California Friday to speak about his intended aid for the state’s affected industries. Instrumental in the aid forthcoming was the recent signature of the 2014 Agricultural Act — or farm bill — which renewed government emergency aid, something absent since 2011.

Normally, this process takes anywhere from six to eight months,” said Vilsack in a press release. “The President is going to direct us to get it done within 60-days so that within 60 days, by April 15 or thereabouts, farmers and producers will be able to make applications for livestock assistance and should receive checks shortly thereafter.”

The Office of the Press Secretary also released a plan of action, including “$100 million in livestock disaster assistance for California producers,” which will aid those recovering from adverse effects in the livestock industry in California, with $100 million set aside for 2014, but up to $50 million for years prior. Further, $15 million will be put toward conservation in drought areas, $5 million toward Emergency Watershed Protection Program (or, EWP), and 600 meal sites and $60 million for food banks in California state.

“The President definitely recognizes that droughts not only impact producers but also impacts the families of those who work in these orchards and with these growers and producers. A lot of folks will not be employed, or if they’re employed, they won’t work the number of hours that they would normally work,” said Vilsack.

California’s drought is real. We’re taking every possible step to prepare the state for the continuing dry conditions we face,” said California Governor Edmund G. Brown (D-Calif.) last month in a statement issued after the Department of Water Resources put the State Water Project allocation at zero. The Governor also declared a drought State of Emergency, and California’s Fire Department took an extra 125 staff on to prepare for an increase in fire probability.

Now, the Governor, President Obama, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, both Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif), Congress member Jim Costa (D-Calif.), and other leaders in the agricultural and water fields will meet for a roundtable discussion, according to a press release.

Dr. John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy emphasized climate change during the White House conference call with Secretary Vilsack. “As Secretary Vilsack noted, [this] is the most severe drought in the more than hundred years of incremental records, but it’s also probably based on paleoclimate records one of the strongest droughts in the last 500 years,” said Dr. Holdren, adding that for the Colorado River Basin specifically it’s probably the worst in the last thousand years as well. He allowed that, “No single episode of extreme weather, no storm, no flood, no drought can be said to have been caused by global climate change.” Rather, he said, it’s about the weather globally that is being changed.

More From Wall St. Cheat Sheet: