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Statement by Assistant to the President for Press Relations Fitzwater on the Drought Emergency

June 17, 1988

The President met for 30 minutes this afternoon at 3:30 p.m. to discuss the drought situation with Vice President Bush, Secretary of Agriculture Lyng, OMB Director Miller, Deputy Chief of Staff Duberstein, and John Tuck [Deputy Assistant to the President and Executive Assistant to the Chief of Staff].

Secretary Lyng summarized the severity of the drought, using a chart of the United States, color-coded to indicate the areas of greatest severity. Secretary Lyng indicated the largest area of severe drought is in the North Central States. He indicated the drought severity of that region stretched well into Canada, including the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta, and that Prime Minister Mulroney will undoubtedly share our concern for the drought at the Toronto summit. The Secretary also summarized actions already taken to relieve the shortages of grazing land for livestock.

President Reagan asked to be kept informed on a regular basis. Secretary Lyng will provide daily reports on drought conditions to the White House. In addition, the first meeting of the Interagency Drought Policy Committee will be held Monday at the Department of Agriculture.

Secretary Lyng will accompany Vice President Bush on a tour of the drought area near Springfield, IL, this weekend. He will report to the President and the Cabinet next week.

Secretary Lyng summarized actions taken to date, including:

-- Opening conservation reserve acreage to haying in 297 drought-designated counties in 13 States. The move will help provide feed for livestock in hard-hit drought areas.

-- To date, USDA has approved haying and grazing on acreage conservation and conserving use land (acreage normally idle under these farm programs) in 1,937 counties in 22 States.

-- Emergency feed programs have been approved for 95 counties in 9 States. Other provisions allowing farmers to receive 92 percent of their normal farm program payments if they are prevented from planting due to disaster have been approved for 20 counties in 7 States.