As drought conditions worsen throughout the west, the U.S. Government is stepping forward to help local counties.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack announced last week that the federal government is designating 76 additional counties, including Inyo and Mono counties, in six states as primary natural disaster areas due to damage and losses caused by drought and excessive heat.
Inyo County Agricultural Commissioner George Milovich said the designation applies to local lands, and makes farmers and rangers eligible to apply for no-interest loans to keep operations going through the drought season.
During the 2012 crop year, the USDA has designated 1,369 counties across 31 states as disaster areas. Of those, 1,234 have been designated due to drought, making all qualified farm operators in the areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans.
Milovich said Vilsack is using a new process that streamlines the disaster relief program by skipping a lengthy application process and basing designations on drought information counties relay to the USDA.
“President (Barack) Obama requested that the USDA take steps within our existing programs to support struggling farmers and ranchers,” Vilsack said. “The president and I are committed to ensuring that agriculture remains a bright spot in our nation’s economy by sustaining the successes of America’s agricultural economy through these difficult times.”
In mid July, President Obama and Vilsack met to discuss additional steps that could be taken to help farmers and ranchers recover when disasters strike. Shortly afterwards, Vilsack announced the USDA’s use of existing authority to help create and encourage more flexibility within the USDA’s major conservation programs as well as Federal Crop Insurance Program to allow for additional areas to be used for emergency haying and grazing.
“The action will allow lands that are not yet classified as ‘under severe drought’ but that are ‘abnormally dry’ to be used for haying and grazing,” stated a press release from the USDA states.
The USDA is also allowing producers to modify current Environmental Quality Incentives Program contracts to allow for grazing, livestock watering and other conservation activities to address drought conditions, and has authorized haying and grazing of Wetlands Reserve Program easements in drought-affected areas where haying and grazing is consistent with conservation of wildlife habitat and wetlands.
The press release also stated that Vilsack is encouraging crop insurance companies to provide a short grace period for farmers on unpaid insurance premiums, “as some farming families can be expected to struggle to make ends meet at the close of this crop year.”
As Secretary of Agriculture, Vilsack is authorized to designate disaster counties to make assistance programs available to farmers and ranchers.
During times of need, the USDA has historically responded to disasters across the country by providing direct support, disaster assistance, technical assistance and access to credit.
Milovich said any local farmers or ranchers who are interested in applying for no-interest disaster relief loans, must contact their Farm Service Agency, located in Yerington, Nev. at (775) 463-2855 ext. 100.