On Wednesday, US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack officially declared all 92 Indiana counties primary disaster areas. This declaration is different from those made earlier this summer. State FSA Director Julia Wickard told HAT this declaration goes beyond just drought damage, “The purpose of this declaration is to include all producers who suffered damage from drought and frost.” Lt. Governor Skillman and Wickard sent a letter on July 25 to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack requesting a Secretarial disaster designation for Indiana, due to the impact of excessive heat, frost, freeze and drought. “It’s been one challenge after another this year for our farmers, who provide so much for all of our families,” said Lt. Governor Skillman. “This is another great step in the recovery process, and we remain committed to helping members of our agricultural community get through these difficult times and move forward with renewed optimism.”
A Secretarial disaster designation makes qualified farmers in both primary and contiguous counties eligible for low-interest emergency loans through USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for low interest loans. FSA will consider each loan application on individual merits. “This designation is important because it provides relief to all producers across Indiana who have suffered a qualifying loss of 30 percent or greater of at least one crop,” said Wickard. “It extends the scope beyond drought, which is what the new USDA Fast Track process, using the U.S. Drought Monitor, provided Hoosier farmers this summer.”
But, exactly what benefits will be available remains unclear. No new Farm Bill has been passed and no disaster legislation has been approved, so producers continue to wait in limbo. Wickard says keeping records is critical to future program eligibility, no matter what it is or when it comes, “Record keeping is vital from journals to photos to temperature records.” She said, when relief programs are approved, producers can then bring this information into their local FSA office to document their losses.