Pork producers seek extra help from a wary USDA

Group requests $250 million in assistance from Agriculture, but department indicates that more aid will be hard to come by.

The National Pork Producers Council on Monday asked for $250 million in assistance from the Agriculture Department, but a USDA spokesman signaled that more aid will be hard to come by.

Noting that pork producers have been losing $21 on each hog sent to market since September 2007, the pork producers asked USDA to take four specific actions.

They are to purchase pork valued at $50 million for federal food programs by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year; buy another $50 million at the beginning of next fiscal year; urge Congress to lift a spending cap on the Section 32 program to make additional purchases and use $100 million of the $1 billion appropriated for addressing the H1N1 virus for the swine industry.

The pork producers noted that nine governors have asked USDA to make additional pork purchases.

"U.S. pork producers are in desperate straits right now, and they need a little help from USDA," said NPPC President Don Butler. "The request NPPC has made today not only will help pork producers and Americans who benefit from government feeding programs but tens of thousands of mostly rural jobs supported by the U.S. pork industry."

But a spokesman for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an e-mail that "USDA has purchased approximately $117 million in pork products for food and nutrition assistance programs this year through our annual appropriation and recovery act funding."

"We have limited funding remaining because of restrictions imposed in the 2008 Farm Bill," he added. "Due to economic conditions, the value of requests for commodity purchases far exceeds the amount of remaining funding but we will continue to monitor market developments and make decisions accordingly."

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