Disaster assistance: Programs help producers in tough timesWritten by Saige Albert
“Sadly, our programs are pretty limited compared to normal,” comments Executive Director of the Wyoming State Office of the Farm Service Agency (FSA) Gregor Goertz of disaster assistance programs.
Wyoming Department of Agriculture Deputy Director Doug Miyamoto adds, “There are a lot of emergency programs that are not funded right now. They expired at the end of last year, so there won’t be money available until we get a new Farm Bill.”
“Governor Mead asked for a state-wide disaster declaration on June 21 for all counties except for Teton County,” explains Goertz.
In the past, in order to receive a disaster designation, state governors were required to request the designation, county FSA offices collected data and the information was submitted to the national FSA office.
However, updates to the disaster designation program have created a fast-track process.
“FSA was looking at revising the designation process to try to speed it up, and with the conditions this year, it moved quickly,” he notes. “As soon as a county or any part of a county is in D3 drought on the drought monitor, they automatically receive the secretarial designation.”
A secretarial disaster designation is important in many years because it allows producers to qualify for a number of Farm Bill programs. This year, however, with a lack of funding for those programs, the declaration allows producers to qualify for low-interest loans.
Disaster declarations were made for Hot Springs County on June 22 and, under the fast track program, for Carbon, Laramie and Lincoln counties on July 12, and Fremont and Sublette counties on July 16. On July 24 Goshen, Platte, Niobrara, Converse, Campbell, Weston, Crook, and Albany counties received a primary disaster designation.
FSA’s emergency loan program can be used to restore or replace essential property; pay all or part of production costs associated with the disaster year; pay essential family living expenses; reorganize the farming operation; or refinance certain debts.
“They cover production loss as well,” comments Goertz. “Just recently, Secretary Vilsack lowered the interest rates from 3.75 percent to 2.25 percent.”
In order to qualify for emergency loans, producers must meet a set of criteria and can borrow up to a maximum amount of $500,000.
“We also have the emergency conservation programs (ECP) to help producers with drought and fire,” Goertz explains, noting that funding for these programs is also limited this year. “We have to ask the national office for funding on those programs, and right now they are out of money.”
However, last year, Goertz mentions that Congress approved additional dollars for flood damages and hopes that funding is allocated for drought and fire assistance.
“With the money, we can assist producers with emergency water wells,” he says. “We can help producers build fences if they were destroyed by fires, and in tornado areas, we can do fencing and debris removal.”
“We also have water hauling programs,” Goertz mentions. “Water hauling seems to be a big item, especially in southern Wyoming.”
Fencing replacement is available for fire damage on federal allotments, provided the practice does not specifically benefit the federal agency and leases provide for the practice.
“We’ve had really good participation across the state,” Goertz comments. “In the past there has been limited participation in certain areas, but we are putting together the reports now.”
Goertz adds Albany, Carbon, Lincoln, Platte, Sublette and Sweetwater counties have been approved and partially funded for Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) cost share assistance.
Other counties across the state have requested funding. Several have been approved to conduct ECP signup, but have not yet been funded due to lack of available money. Those counties include Converse, Johnson, Natrona and Weston counties for fire and drought, Niobrara and Sheridan counties for fire, and Uinta County for drought assistance.
“Whether Congress will come up with additional funding, I don’t know,” says Goertz.
CRP grazing and haying
Emergency provisions have also been put in place on conservation reserve program (CRP) lands.
In normal years, CRP lands can be routinely grazed every third year of the contract and half of a contract can be hayed once every five years, but in emergency situations, special provisions are made.
“On emergency grazing, when we have permission, producers can actually graze CRP land on a more frequent schedule, and then the three year rotation starts over,” Goertz explains, adding that the provisions apply to the time period outside the primary nesting season, which ends on July 15 in Wyoming.
With letters of support from wildlife groups around the state, Wyoming was granted a variance, allowing producers to start grazing CRP lands earlier.
“He also says that Wyoming was granted emergency CRP haying after the primary nesting season.
“Secretary Vilsack has now released all counties that are in an abnormally dry situation for emergency grazing and haying across the nation,” says Goertz. “Producers, of course, need to receive approval from their local FSA office prior to any grazing or haying on CRP.”
In order to participate in any FSA program, Goertz mentions that producers must contact their local FSA office.
Congress works for disaster assistance
On July 13, Senators Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) introduced legislation to extend agricultural disaster assistance programs for one year.
These disaster assistance programs would provide relief for producers experiencing severe drought and natural disaster impacts until Congress passes the next Farm Bill that includes the programs as it was passed out of the Senate and House Ag Committees.
“The disaster programs that expired at the end of 2011 were very beneficial to Wyoming producers,” comments Wyoming State Executive Director at USDA’s Farm Service Agency Gregor Goertz. “It would be helpful to have the programs.”
WDA works to help producers
The Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) has gathered information about the drought and is working to connect producers to available programs for disaster assistance.
“The Department is collecting information about where there might be hay or grass,” explains WDA Director Jason Fearneyhough. “We are also working with the Canadian Consulate Office on how to get hay down to our producers.”
In a series of public meetings held at the beginning of July, Fearneyhough mentions that they were interested in gathering information about the situation across the state.
“People are concerned about having to come off their range early and if there is going to be any winter range for the sheep,” summarizes Fearneyhough.
A second set of meetings will be held in Rock Springs on July 30 and Thermopolis on Aug. 8. The meetings will serve to inform attendees of current programs and garner input on how WDA can help Wyoming producers.
For more information on the public meetings or efforts of the WDA, call 307-777-7321.