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USDA Expands Drought Assistance to 22 States

Here’s a release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 19, 2012—Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced $11.8 million in additional financial and technical assistance to help crop and livestock producers in 22 states apply conservation practices that reduce the impacts of drought and improve soil health and productivity. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides this assistance through its Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

Since early summer, USDA has announced a variety of assistance to producers impacted by the drought, including opening conservation acres to emergency haying and grazing, lowering the interest rate for emergency loans, and working with crop insurance companies to provide flexibility to farmers. Just a few weeks ago, USDA announced $16 million in financial and technical assistance to immediately help crop and livestock producers in 19 states cope with the adverse impacts of the historic drought. In July, the Secretary announced USDA would allow producers to modify current EQIP contracts to allow for grazing, livestock watering, and other conservation activities to address drought conditions, and also authorized haying and grazing of WRP easement areas in drought-affected areas where haying and grazing is consistent with conservation of wildlife habitat and wetlands. Today’s announcement expands upon these efforts and brings the total assistance to nearly $28 million.

“As this drought continues to impact American farming and ranching families, USDA will be there to help our agriculture sector recover,” said Vilsack. “This additional assistance builds on a number of steps USDA and other federal agencies have taken over the past few months to provide resources and flexibility in our existing programs to help producers endure these hardships. But Congress also needs to act, and the urgency to pass a comprehensive, multi-year food, farm and jobs bill is greater than ever.”

See the additional NRCS drought assistance received by each state at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detailfull/national/?cid=STELPRDB1048818.

Funding from NRCS targets states that are experiencing either exceptional or extreme drought conditions. Exceptional drought continues to dominate sections of Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming, causing widespread losses of crops and pastures and water shortages in reservoirs, streams and wells.

Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina and Utah are under extreme drought, with accompanying major losses of crops and pasture, widespread water shortages and restrictions on water use. Learn more about drought categories at http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/.

The additional funding will allow NRCS to address the backlog in applications from the previous drought assistance signup, as well as accept new applications from producers interested in applying selected conservation practices to address drought, including prescribed grazing, livestock watering facilities and water conservation practices. Producers can also apply for financial assistance to re-install conservation practices that failed due to drought.

At the direction of President Obama, Secretary Vilsack is helping coordinate an Administration-wide response that has included: the National Credit Union Administration’s increased capacity for lending to customers including farmers; the U.S. Department of Transportation’s emergency waivers for federal truck weight regulations and hours of service requirements to get help to drought-stricken communities; and the Small Business Administration’s pathway for small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and non-farm small businesses that are economically affected by the drought in their community to apply for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL).

Since July, USDA has announced:

Intent to purchase up to $170 million of pork, lamb, chicken, and catfish for federal food nutrition assistance programs, including food banks, to help relieve pressure on American livestock producers and bring the nation’s meat supply in line with demand.

Allowed emergency loans to be made earlier in the season.
Intent to file special provisions with the federal crop insurance program to allow haying or grazing of cover crops without impacting the insurability of planted 2013 spring crops.

Authorized up to $5 million in grants to evaluate and demonstrate agricultural practices that help farmers and ranchers adapt to drought.

Granted a temporary variance from the National Organic Program’s pasture practice standards for organic ruminant livestock producers in 16 states in 2012.

Authorized $16 million in existing funds from its WHIP and EQIP to target states experiencing exceptional and extreme drought.
Initiated transfer of $14 million in unobligated program funds into the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) to help farmers and ranchers rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters and for carrying out emergency water conservation measures in periods of severe drought.

Authorized haying and grazing of WRP easement areas in drought-affected areas where haying and grazing is consistent with conservation of wildlife habitat and wetlands.

Lowered the reduction in the annual rental payment to producers on CRP acres used for emergency haying or grazing from 25 percent to 10 percent in 2012.

Simplified the Secretarial disaster designation process and reduced the time it takes to designate counties affected by disasters by 40 percent.

USDA works with state and local governments and private landowners to conserve and protect our nation’s natural resources, helping preserve our land, and clean our air and water. In 2011, USDA enrolled a record number of acres of private working lands in conservation programs, working with more than 500,000 farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices that clean the air we breathe, filter the water we drink, and prevent soil erosion. President Obama launched the America’s Great Outdoors initiative in 2010 to foster a 21st century approach to conservation that is designed by and accomplished in partnership with the American people. During the past two years, USDA’s conservation agencies—the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Farm Service Agency—have delivered technical assistance and implemented restoration practices on public and private lands. We are working to better target conservation investments, embracing locally driven conservation and entering partnerships that focus on large, landscape-scale conservation.

Producers and landowners are encouraged to visit the NRCS website or stop by their local NRCS office to find out if they are eligible for this new funding.

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