Farm Service Agency offers assistance to farmers impacted by fire

Local FSA offices can help growers navigate a host of safety-net programs to help cover agricultural losses due to natural disaster and other eligible criteria. Fresno County FSA Executive Director Russ Friend, left, was recently visited by FSA Administrator Val Dolcini during a tour of fire-damaged sites along the Central and North Coasts.

2014 Farm Bill still offers safety net opportunities

2014 Farm Bill programs still available to growers Weather and fire damage assistance is available Local FSA offices have information on various programs

The ravages of drought and wildfire over the past couple years in California should be mitigated somewhat by help available through the 2014 Farm Bill.

Val Dolcini, administrator of the Farm Service Agency (FSA) toured fire- and drought-damaged locations in California as part of a federal effort to ensure farmers have adequate risk management tools at their disposal.

Dolcini, who several years ago was promoted into the lead FSA position after serving as California’s FSA director, spoke recently with Western Farm Press to share some of the programs available for California and Arizona growers.

Programs under the 2014 Farm Bill are still largely available, though the funding provided by Congress is limited. Dolcini said the attitude of Congress at the time the most recent Farm Bill was crafted was to provide a safety net for growers.

Programs

Major wildfires during the last couple didn’t just raze wildlands, forests and homes; vineyards near the North Coast were also impacted, Dolcini said. For those vineyards not destroyed by fire, smoke taint may be an issue in grapes harvested for wine.

“I saw some vineyards up there that looked pretty scorched,” he said of the Lake County (northern California) properties impacted by large wildfires.

Under the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) growers may be eligible to receive funds to help remove debris and rebuild fences after the conflagrations.

Programs like this are 75 percent cost share programs available to reduce the cost of rebuilding.

“We were able to use these funds to great effect in that area,” Dolcini said.

More than $2 million in ECP funds went to Lake County land owners.

“We’re here to make sure farmers have adequate risk management tools at their disposal,” Dolcini continued.

Earlier this year the FSA unveiled a cotton ginning cost share program that provided $330 million across the entire cotton belt, including California and Arizona. The program utilized regional formulas to provide cash grants to those who grew cotton in 2015.

“It was a way for us to provide assistance to an industry hit very hard by declining prices,” Dolcini said.

California and Arizona growers also have the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program to aid them from losses due to natural disasters, including drought, freeze, hail, too much rain or other adverse weather conditions.

Arizona cotton growers recently impacted by hail storms may want to check with their local FSA office for options available to them.

A program particularly important to California producers given the large acreages of tree fruit and nuts planted throughout the state includes the Tree Assistance Program.

Eligible losses include trees, bushes or vines that suffered more than 15 percent losses due to a natural disaster. There is also an acreage limit to be eligible for payments. 

California and Arizona growers will likely be most interested in the new Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs, according to Dolcini. These replace direct payments models under previous Farm Bills. Both are considered “cornerstone” programs under the new Farm Bill.

ARC and PLC offer farmers protection when market forces cause substantial drops in crop prices. Check online for application deadlines and other requirements.

Dairy Program

The Margin Protection Program for Dairy, or MPP, is another program Dolcini said has been helpful, particularly in California where state order milk prices continue to be much lower than federal order prices.

MPP is a nationwide program.

The MPP is a voluntary risk management program for dairy producers and provides protection when the difference between the all milk price and the average feed cost (margin) falls below a certain dollar amount selected by the producer.

Catastrophic coverage of $4 margin coverage at 90 percent of the established production history requires no premium payment, though a $100 administrative fee is required to enter the program. Additional fees may be required for higher coverage levels.

For increased protection, dairy producers may annually select coverage from 25 to 90 percent of the established production history and a coverage threshold from $4.50 to $8.

Eligible dairy operations must produce and commercially market milk from cows located in the United States, provide proof of milk production at the time of registration, and not be enrolled in the Risk Management Agency’s Livestock Gross Margin for dairy program.

Registration for the 2017 coverage year is already closed. Registration for the 2018 year will begin July 3, 2017 and run through the end of September that year.

Dairy producers can use a web tool to test a variety of financial scenarios before enrolling in the program. That web tool is located at www.fsa.usda.gov/mpptool.

Other programs available to farmers and ranchers include:

  • Livestock Indemnity Program – Coverage includes livestock deaths, other than from normal mortality, caused by eligible adverse weather and eligible predatory animal attacks (includes wolves and avian predators);
  • Livestock Forage Disaster Program – this provides compensation to eligible livestock producers who have suffered grazing losses for covered livestock on land that is native or improved pastureland with permanent vegetative cover or is planted specifically for grazing;
  • Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP) – This covers losses due to an eligible adverse weather or loss condition, including blizzards and wildfires; and,
  • Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Loans – A program that makes and guarantees loans to beginning farmers and ranchers who are unable to obtain financing from commercial lenders.

While this cannot be an exhaustive explanation of 2014 Farm Bill programs or answer all questions for the hundreds of commodities grown in California and Arizona, growers are encouraged to plan ahead as the various risk management programs offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture have application deadlines.

Visit the Farm Service Agency website at https://www.fsa.usda.gov/ to find more information and to locate the nearest county FSA office.

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