FSA announces livestock disaster relief programs

Oct 2, 2009
FSA announces livestock disaster relief programs

USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) has announced that they will begin taking applications for two new disaster relief programs designed to assist livestock producers. Both programs are a result of the 2008 farm bill and, together, are expected to provide assistance for disasters ranging from drought and fire to disease outbreaks and adverse weather.

“The president and I are committed to meeting the needs of those producers who have suffered devastating losses from natural disasters,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “These programs ensure that producers who have suffered losses receive the assistance needed to remain financially solvent and help them continue on in their operations.”

The first program, called the Livestock Forage Disaster Assistance Program (LFP), will provide assistance to ranchers who have suffered losses as a result of drought or wildfire. Wildfire, in this case, refers specifically to fires that occur on public rangeland and result in a producer losing access to their grazing allotments for any given year. Drought assistance is intended for private lands, and there are rules that govern whether or not a drought is severe enough to warrant assistance. Under the rules of the program, drought severity is determined by the U.S. Drought Monitor, which rates droughts on a scale of increasing severity ranging from D0 to D4. In order to qualify for assistance, a given county must experience a D2 level drought for at least eight weeks during a normal grazing season. In Washington state, for example, producers in four counties would qualify for drought assistance in 2009 according to the Washington FSA office; Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan.

The second program is known as the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm Raised Fish program, or ELAP. ELAP is designed to provide financial assistance to producers for losses caused by a variety of disasters. For ranchers, this could include disease outbreaks, blizzards and other adverse weather conditions, fires on private land, and, potentially, any natural disaster not covered by other FSA programs. Because of the wide range of possibilities covered by ELAP, FSA plans to handle claims under this program on a case-by-case basis.

Although applications for assistance under both programs are being accepted, FSA officials caution that the check may not necessarily be in the mail for some time yet. Both programs have been funded at the national level, but many of the rules that govern how the money will be distributed are not yet clear at the local offices.

Lynn Voigt, executive director of the Oregon FSA office, points out that Oregon, among other states, can currently do little more than file the application and wait for the rules to clarify before proceeding.

“The sad thing is that we don’t have what we need to take that application and work with it,” said Voigt. “We don’t have all the information we need (from the federal level) at this time.” His advice for producers who feel they may qualify for assistance is to keep in close contact with their local FSA office and be patient.

“One of the things our agency is doing is frantically trying to get these programs in place and working. It’s taking more time than anybody wanted, we know that,” he said.

Although specifics regarding how payment amounts will be determined are not yet known, officials say payments will likely not amount to full compensation for a producer’s losses.

“In Oregon,” stated Voigt, “we have two counties, Lake and Harney, that had eight consecutive weeks of D2 level drought in 2008. Payments for this are likely to be equivalent to one month’s feed cost.”

Although the new programs will certainly be slow to start, many FSA officials feel there is reason to be optimistic. According to Dick Rush, director of the Idaho FSA office, the new programs are a vast improvement over USDA’s previous ad hoc approach to disaster relief.

Rush, who has recently reclaimed the director’s position after a long hiatus, points out that previous relief efforts had to be pushed through Congress on an individual basis, a long and costly process that often resulted in confusion as each disaster was handled differently.

“This group of disaster programs is designed to be permanent,” said Rush. “People will know what the rules are ahead of time, and they won’t have to lobby at Congress every time we have a disaster.”

Under the farm bill, both programs will continue until 2011 and will provide assistance for disasters that occurred as early as 2008. Producers have until Dec. 10 to report 2008 disasters. After that, claims to the ELAP program must be made within 30 days of the disaster.

Producers claiming assistance under the LFP program will have until Jan. 30 of the year following the disaster to make a claim. All claims should be reported to your local county FSA office. More information can be found at www.fsa.usda.gov. — Jason Campbell, WLJ Correspondent