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Federal Help Nears for Hog Farmers

May 20, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Hog farmers struggling with record low prices stand to receive at least $145 million in federal aid under the spending package sent Thursday to the White House.

The legislation offers up to $245 million for the farmers, but agriculture officials indicated that as much as $100 million probably will go to other Agriculture Department needs.

The $15 billion package that cleared the Senate on Thursday finances the fighting in the Balkans, aid to hurricane victims and other projects.

The legislation set asides $145 million in new funds for the Agriculture Department and authorizes $100 million in existing funds to help pork producers.

Hog prices plummeted to 40-year lows last December, sinking to 8 cents to 10 cents a pound. Producers on Thursday were getting 36 cents per pound, still below the break-even point of almost 40 cents.

The Agriculture Department already has bought record amounts of pork and is unlikely to make substantially more purchases with the $100 million in existing funds, according to a USDA official speaking on condition of anonymity. Those funds also can be used for fruit, vegetables and other commodities.

The agency will help hog farmers with direct payments as well as loans or purchases of surplus pork. Earlier this year, the agency sent $50 million in direct payments to hog farmers, an industry traditionally not subsidized by the government.

``There are a lot of independent pork producers who are really struggling, and should these below-cost prices go on much longer, they’ll have a very difficult time staying in business, there’s no doubt about that,″ said Steven Cohen, a spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council.

Producers and lawmakers want Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman to use the new funds for direct payments. They also asked him to spend most of the other funds on the pork industry.

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