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USDA Moves to Streamline Disaster Designation Process


Wednesday USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack outlined streamlining the agency is undertaking in light of looming natural disasters from drought and the issue of expired emergency assistance programs. The idea is to make improvements that will deliver faster and more flexible assistance to farmers devastated by natural disasters, so a final rule streamlining the disaster designation process is now in effect.

“First of all we are providing for an automatic qualification for any county that has been in a drought monitor D2 condition for 8 consecutive weeks or a D3 condition any time during the growing season to be automatically qualified under a secretarial designation,” he explained. “With that change 1,016 primary counties throughout the United States will be designated under the secretarial designation for 2012. This is the largest single secretarial designation in the history of our program.”

Portions of Indiana are currently in the D3 drought stage and automatically qualify. Much of the rest of the state is currently in the D2 stage. A natural disaster designation makes all qualified farm operators in the designated areas eligible for low interest emergency loans.

While explaining the USDA package, Vilsack stressed they are currently working with limited tools and called on Congress for additional help.

“It is extraordinarily important for House leadership to allow the work that’s being done in the House Ag Committee and hopefully resulting in a markup of a bill, to have that bill come to the floor and get it debated and voted on so that the differences between the House and Senate version of the Food, Farm and Jobs bill can be ironed out before September 30th, providing USDA potentially with additional tools, especially for livestock producers, that would be place in a completed bill. Extraordinarily important.”

USDA’s streamlining also includes a reduced interest rate for emergency loans that effectively lowers the current rate from 3.75 percent to 2.25 percent; and a payment reduction on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands qualified for emergency haying and grazing in 2012, from 25 to 10 percent.[audio:https://www.hoosieragtoday.com//wp-content/uploads//2012/07/Tom-Vilsack-on-2012-disaster-moves.mp3|titles=Tom Vilsack on 2012 disaster moves]

“By delivering lower interest rates on emergency loans and providing greater flexibility for haying and grazing on CRP lands, we’re keeping more farmers in business and supporting our rural American communities through difficult times,” he said. “With these improvements, we’re also telling American producers that USDA stands with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood.”

Listen for Vilsack’s full statement:[audio:https://www.hoosieragtoday.com//wp-content/uploads//2012/07/Secretary-Vilsack-emergency-streamline-remarks.mp3|titles=Secretary Vilsack emergency streamline remarks]

The final rule for Secretarial disaster designations is amended as follows:

Nearly automatically qualifies a disaster county once it is categorized by the U.S. Drought Monitor as a severe drought for eight consecutive weeks during the growing season. Effective July 12, 1,016 primary counties in 26 states will be designated as natural disaster areas, making all qualified farm operators in the designated areas eligible for low interest emergency loans from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), provided eligibility requirements are met.

Streamlines the USDA Secretarial designation process, which is expected to provide better service to farmers and ranchers by reducing by approximately 40 percent the amount of time required for designating a disaster area.

Removes the requirement that a request for a disaster designation be initiated by a state governor or Indian tribal council, increasing the likelihood that counties will be covered. Indian tribal councils and governors may still submit a request for a designation, but it will not be required in order to initiate a disaster declaration.

The same criteria currently being used for triggering a disaster designation will apply: a county must either show a 30 percent production loss of at least one crop countywide, or a decision must be made by surveying producers to determine that other lending institutions are not able to provide emergency financing.

During times of need, USDA has historically responded to disasters across the country by providing direct support, disaster assistance, technical assistance, and access to credit. USDA’s low-interest emergency loans have helped producers recover from losses due to drought, flooding and other natural disasters for decades. While the current emergency loan interest rate was set in 1993 at 3.75 percent, commercial farm loan and other FSA farm loan interest rates have since been reduced without a corresponding reduction in the emergency loan rate. By reducing the interest rates to 2.25 percent, emergency loans immediately come into line with other rates in the marketplace and provide a much-needed resource for producers hoping to recover from production and physical losses associated with natural disasters.

As part of ongoing efforts to provide greater flexibility in service to American agriculture, USDA also announced that the annual rental payment by producers on CRP acres used for emergency haying or grazing will be reduced to 10 percent in 2012, instead of 25 percent, in response to the seriousness of the drought gripping large portions of the United States.

USDA encourages all farmers and ranchers to contact their crop insurance companies and local USDA Farm Service Agency Service Centers, as applicable, to report damages to crops or livestock loss. In addition, USDA reminds livestock producers to keep thorough records of losses, including additional expenses for such things as food purchased due to lost supplies. More information about federal crop insurance may be found at www.rma.usda.gov. Additional resources to help farmers and ranchers deal with flooding may be found at https://www.usda.gov/disaster.