USDA steps up with help in California David McNew/Getty Images
CATCHING FIRE: A wide range of farm businesses are getting hit by California wildfires. USDA is cutting red tape to speed access to financial help for key projects in the region.

USDA steps up with help in California

Devastating wildfires are ripping through the state. The agency offers $4 million to help farmers, ranchers and forest land owners

The images of wildfires destroying homes in Northern California made it to national news, but the impact of those fires on agriculture is still being measured. Wineries, rangelands and farms took a significant hit too. USDA announced it will target $4 million to help farmers and ranchers in the region recover from the fires.

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service will issue waivers for those interested in Environmental Quality Incentives Program to enable recovery work immediately. This is one of several disaster assistance programs available through the agency.

NRCS will begin accepting applications for its EWIP Catastrophic Fire Recovery fund pool to assist producers in covering the cost of certain rehabilitation practices. Some covered practices include creating check dams in drainages, using damaged trees to slow runoff, repairing culvert systems and planting tree seedlings. The agency will waive the standard 30-day application ranking period and is accepting applications for the initial fund pool through Nov. 6, 2017.

In a statement, Curtis Tarver, NRCS California acting state conservationist, noted that the agency is committed to getting assistance out as soon as possible and "we are cutting some red tape to allow people to get to work immediately. We encourage producers to visit their local USDA service center to submit an application and work with staff to begin recovery."

The agency will also offer technical and educational assistance to fire-impacted landowners faced with erosion and flooding in a damaged watershed.

Other resources available

NRCS, Farm Service Agency and Risk Management Agency in California are planning to meet with landowners, partners and other agencies to assess damages and discuss technical and financial assistance. Public workshops will be scheduled once fires are contained.

FSA can help farmers and ranchers with a range of disaster assistance including compensation for livestock death and feed losses, risk coverage for specialty crops, and repair of damage to agricultural and private forest land.  For example, the FSA Emergency Conservation Program provides funding and technical assistance to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters including fence restoration.

FSA’s suite of safety-net programs to help producers recover from eligible losses, includes:

Livestock Indemnity Program;

Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program; and

Tree Assistance Program.

Additionally, producers located in counties that receive a primary or contiguous disaster designation are eligible for low-interest emergency loans to help them recover from production and physical losses.

Compensation is also available to producers who purchased coverage through the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, which protects non-insurable crops (including native grass for grazing) against natural disasters that result in lower yields, crop losses or prevented planting. 

Federal crop insurance protects producers against losses due to natural perils, such as wildfires. The program, administered by RMA, offers several plans for crops and livestock in California.

Help with watersheds

USDA can assist communities with rebuilding efforts following hazards to life and property caused by natural disasters. Through the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program, NRCS works with local government entities and Tribes in impacted counties to remove debris, stabilize streambanks, fix water control structures, among other practices.

With the high potential for winter rains, burned areas are at greater risk for erosion and mudflows and EWP-type services are key to preventing further damage.  The program requires local government bodies or other sponsor to assist with on-the-ground work including concrete barriers and debris basins, mulching, straw wattles, and other damage control measures.

Source: USDA

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