When Congress and the White House signed off on the new farm bill recently, they paved the way for ranchers and stockmen to qualify for federal disaster relief for current and retroactive losses caused by the drought. Signup for the program is being expedited and may start as soon as April 14.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says USDA will implement President Obama's plans to supplement and expand drought assistance programs for farmers, ranchers and residents affected by severe drought, including a new provision that allows relief from livestock losses retroactive back to 2011. The additional drought relief is one of the programs approved and made available through new farm bill.
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The Agriculture Act of 2014 livestock disaster assistance program includes a livestock indemnity program (LIP) for livestock losses from adverse weather or attacks by federally reintroduced animals; a livestock forage program (LFP) for losses resulting from drought or fire; a program of emergency relief to producers of livestock, honey bees and farm-raised fish not covered by the two previous programs (ELAP); and a tree assistance program for natural disasters.
Vilsack says all of these programs are retroactive to when the livestock disaster provisions ended in 2011. According to the USDA, these programs cover 75 percent of the value of animals lost with a high aggregate limit of $125,000.
Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) joined forces to write a letter to Vilsack asking USDA to expedite signup for the livestock assistance program. The letter expressed urgency at providing relief to ranchers who have been suffering the effect of drought nearly three years without assistance.
"Due to the magnitude of pasture, forage and livestock losses and the urgent need for financial assistance these losses have created, we strongly urge you to place implementation of 2014 farm bill livestock disaster programs as a top priority," the letter advised the USDA.
According to Thune and Heitkamp, in 2012 U.S. grazing livestock producers experienced the most devastating loss of pasture, rangeland and forage in decades due to the widespread drought.
"In October 2013, winter storm Atlas, an unexpected early fall blizzard, killed more than 20,000 cattle, sheep horses and bison in the Dakotas and Nebraska, leaving many livestock producers with less than 50 percent of their livestock herds surviving," Thune told reporters.
In addition to the livestock assistance program authorized with the passage of the new farm law, other drought relief programs have been made available. For California and other states recently part of a disaster declaration, various aid programs are available, funded by:
$15 million in targeted conservation assistance
This includes $5 million in additional assistance to California and $10 million for drought-impacted areas in Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado and New Mexico. The funding is available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) administered by USDA. The assistance helps farmers and ranchers implement conservation practices that conserve scarce water resources, reduce wind erosion on drought-impacted fields and improve livestock access to water.
$5 million in targeted Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP)
The program will provide assistance to the most drought affected areas of California to protect vulnerable soils. EWP helps communities address watershed impairments due to drought and other natural occurrences. This funding will help drought-ravaged communities and private landowners address watershed impairments, such as stabilizing stream banks and replanting upland sites stripped of vegetation.
$3 million in Emergency Water Assistance Grants for rural communities
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is making $3 million in grants available to help rural communities that are experiencing a significant decline in the quality or quantity of drinking water due to the drought obtain or maintain water sources of sufficient quantity and quality. These funds will be provided to eligible, qualified communities by application through USDA-Rural Development's Emergency Community Water Assistance Grants (ECWAG).
As USDA begins implementing the livestock provisions of the disaster assistance program, producers should record all pertinent information of natural disaster consequences related to loss, including:
- Documentation of the number and kind of livestock that have died, supplemented if possible by photographs or video records of ownership and losses;
- Dates of death supported by birth recordings or purchase receipts;
- Costs of transporting livestock to safer grounds or to move animals to new pastures;
- Feed purchases if supplies or grazing pastures are destroyed;
- Crop records, including seed and fertilizer purchases, planting and production records;
- Pictures of on-farm storage facilities that were destroyed by wind or flood waters;
- Evidence of damaged farm land.
Officials say by mid-April USDA will begin accepting applications for the livestock disaster assistance program for losses dating back to October of 2011. Eligible ranchers should contact their local Farm Service Agency office as soon as possible to get instructions on what will be needed to sign up for relief.
For more information about today's announcements, visit the USDA drought resource page at www.usda.gov/drought.