Bureaucrats with blinders on Relief aid nixed: Federal agency vetoes Maryland farmers' offer of hay to Florida farms.

August 08, 1998

A WORTHY ACT of Maryland aid to drought- and fire-stricken zTC farmers in Florida has been crushed by federal bureaucrats.

Maryland farmers wanted to ship bales of hay to Florida farmers who had lost their crops to the natural disasters. The Maryland Farm Bureau began mobilizing the relief effort, with a goal of more than 200,000 bales of livestock fodder.

But the hay is standing in fields registered with the federal Crop ++ Reserve Program, which pays farmers to take fields out of production. The idle fields must be planted with a cover crop, such as hay, which cannot be harvested.

So federal agriculture bureaucrats had to grant an exception to harvest the Maryland hay. Despite support from state agricultural officials, the request was rejected.

Curiously, the federal agency declared that a hay harvest on Crop Reserve lands could not be permitted "in an area for which no emergency weather condition exists." Of course, it is Florida and not Maryland that has been devastated by emergency weather conditions.

The Maryland offer would have provided prompt emergency help on a private, volunteer basis. It would be a one-time event, without undermining the Crop Reserve Program. The land would recover quickly from the unscheduled haying. The effect on market prices for hay, a decidedly local commodity, would be small.

It's a bad decision by federal agriculture officials, who sorely need more common-sense when enforcing rules. Besides, the department often bends the rules whenever there's a buck to be made.

Consider the administration's enthusiastic support of grain shipments to Pakistan, which is under a trade embargo for recent nuclear weapons testing. The embargo was partially lifted last month,with Senate approval, so U.S. farmers could sell at least $40 million of wheat to the South Asian nation.

Pub Date: 8/08/98

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