USDA Expands Disaster Programs

Hands tied by limits in the 2008 Farm Bill, Secretary Tom Vilsack makes moves to help drought-ravaged farms.

Published on: Jul 11, 2012

The shriveled corn crop, the stunted soybean crop and worries about livestock forage are reaching the ears of leaders in Washington. Today, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced a package of program improvements aimed to deliver faster and more flexible assistance to farmers and ranchers devastated by natural disasters.

The moves significantly streamline the process of having locations declared disaster areas. For example, Vilsack explained today that counties that are in the D2 designation for the Drought Monitor for at least eight weeks will be declared a disaster area. That means as of Thursday, July 12, 1,016 more counties are being declared as disaster areas. A map of those counties will be available Thursday.

ADDING ACRES FASTER: USDA beefs up disaster programs that can be changed. Hands tied until new Farm Bill gets passed.
ADDING ACRES FASTER: USDA beefs up disaster programs that can be changed. Hands tied until new Farm Bill gets passed.

The agency is also streamlining the process for putting other areas under disaster declaration that would reduce the processing time by 40%. The new process reduces the need for a governor to make a disaster declaration request to USDA.

To help with CRP haying and grazing use under a disaster, the agency is also reducing the payment on CRP lands from 25% to 10% - that will provide more flexibility and free up CRP ground for haying and grazing - after the nesting season, Vilsack says. "Livestock producers requested a more flexible approach to the CRP program," he says. "This rent reduction will benefit those who need emergency" access to hay and feed.

Vilsack has also moved to make disaster loans more easy to use cutting the loan rate from 3.75% to 2.25%. "There's $38 to $39 million available in this program," he notes.

This three-pronged push on disaster help is aimed at weather- and disaster-ravaged areas across the country. "I want to remind you that even with the yield cuts announced today, we will produce the third largest corn crop in history at more than 13.5 billion bushels; and the soybean crop will be large," Vilsack observed.

He adds that he is doing all his agency can given the tools available. "There was an expiration of emergency programs under the 2008 Farm Bill," Vilsack says. "It is important that the House leadership, which is working on markup of a farm bill today, move that bill to the floor so that differences between the Senate and House versions can be worked out before the current farm bill expires Sept. 30. I think that's important to point out."

He adds that the Senate and House versions of the farm bill include provisions that would help livestock producers going forward, provided the bill gets passed.