Congress on Tuesday approved more than $4.1 billion in emergency aid to farmers hard hit by drought and falling crop prices.

Ending weeks of bickering over the size of the aid package, House and Senate negotiators agreed on a relief plan Monday to provide about $2.5 billion in disaster recovery funds and $1.65 billion direct payments to farmers. The funds will be added to the Department of Agriculture's $57 billion budget for fiscal year 1999, which begins next week.

"We're glad to see that they've reached some sort of agreement," said John Blanchfield, manager of the American Bankers Association's agriculture division. "It sends an important signal to the ag economy and to their lenders."

Democrats had pushed for a $7 billion relief plan and a removal on lending caps to farmers. But Republicans rejected that plan, countering with the package that was approved.

-Alan Kline

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