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March 6, 2013

Drought protection fund approved

NORMAN — A measure to provide financial assistance to Oklahoma’s agricultural community during droughts passed the Senate unanimously Tuesday.

Senate Bill 996 would create the Emergency Drought Protection Special Fund. Sen. Ron Justice, author of the legislation, says the state’s current drought is a tragic example of why the fund is needed. 

“Oklahoma is in one of the worst droughts in state history. Many farmers and ranchers have lost crops and been forced to sell livestock because there simply isn’t enough water to maintain them,” said Justice, R-Chickasha. “Some have even stopped farming or ranching because they couldn’t make ends meet and were near bankruptcy.

“Agriculture is the backbone of our state’s economy. We must do all we can to protect this industry and this fund is one way we can do that.”

The Oklahoma Conservation Commission would maintain the fund, which would consist of certain funds appropriated to it. Monies from the fund could only be spent when the governor declared a drought emergency to exist.  

The vice chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee noted that current state and federal emergency funds are not enough to help with drought conditions.

“There are some state and federal emergency funds available to help farmers and ranchers, but those funds aren’t available for all drought-related situations, and in many cases, there just aren’t enough funds available to help everyone,” Justice said.  “This fund would specifically help Oklahoma’s farmers and ranchers get the immediate financial assistance they need to sustain their crops and livestock during extreme drought conditions.”

The fund could be used for drought response activities, including — among others — pond cleanout and construction, water conservation methods in production agriculture, providing water for livestock, rural fire suppression activities as directed by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, red cedar eradication, drought-related soil conservation practices and any other drought response activities identified by the governor.

All fund expenditures would be approved by the commission, with preference given to funding activities that do not receive other legislative appropriations. 

SB 996 now moves to the House for further consideration.

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