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USDA aid programs may help state growers
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi producers may get some financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in their continuing recovery from the devastation caused by the 2005 hurricanes.
In early May, USDA announced four crop and livestock assistance programs backed by $250 million in funds for producers affected by the destruction. The four programs are livestock indemnity, feed indemnity, hurricane indemnity and tree indemnity.
Mississippi was declared a disaster area, so all producers who suffered losses can apply for assistance. Parts of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Texas and North Carolina are also eligible for assistance with damage caused by hurricanes Dennis, Katrina, Ophelia, Rita and Wilma.
“We will do everything we can at USDA to continue to help people who have suffered through hurricanes and lost their crops, or who need help with cleanup or rebuilding their communities,” Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said in a press release announcing the funds.
Bill Herndon, agricultural economist with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, said the money spread over six states and divided into four agriculture areas is not a lot, but every little bit helps.
“It's not going to compensate anybody for their storm damages and other losses, but it does provide some relief, and producers should apply for it,” Herndon said. “It won't reimburse for the extensive damages that farmers and ranchers incurred, but it will likely be worthwhile to apply at your county Farm Service Agency office. More importantly, Mississippi's congressional delegation and others in Washington are working to provide more.”
John Anderson, agricultural economist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said Mississippi producers probably will receive the most benefit from the feed program.
“The feed program is important because after Hurricane Katrina, we had a serious drought. There was no ryegrass for our cattle in many areas that are dependent on ryegrass for fall and winter grazing, and producers had trouble getting feed in for their cattle,” Anderson said.
According to USDA, the feed program “will provide payments to eligible livestock owners and cash lessees who suffered feed losses or increased feed costs due to the hurricanes.” Feed indemnity program payment rates have been set at $17.69 per head for adult dairy cattle and $6.80 per head for adult beef cattle with lower rates for non-adult cattle, horses, goats and sheep.
The livestock indemnity program “will provide payments to eligible livestock owners and contract growers who incurred the death of livestock due to the hurricanes.” Few Mississippians had cattle die during the storms, but most poultry producers lost birds. Herndon said beef and dairy cattle, poultry, sheep and goat losses fall under the livestock indemnity program.
The hurricane program is for “eligible producers who suffered crop losses and received either a Federal Crop Insurance Corporation crop insurance indemnity or a FSA Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program payment.” To become qualified for these hurricane indemnity payouts, a producer must have already received crop insurance payments for hurricane damages.
The tree program is for “eligible owners of commercially grown fruit trees, nut trees, bushes and vines that produce an annual crop and were lost or damaged due to the hurricanes.” Mississippi pecan and blueberry growers suffering losses can apply for aid under this program. Herndon said that timber, nursery inventory and container-grown fruit trees will not be eligible for tree program funds because these crops do not bear fruit for human consumption.
Aid payments will be distributed through FSA offices, and producers should contact them for more details. The sign up period began May 17, and no closing date has been announced.
In addition to the four indemnity programs, USDA is offering $25 million in block grants to the six states for losses by aquaculture producers. They designated $200 million for the Emergency Conservation Program, $400 million for the Emergency Forestry Conservation Reserve Program and $300 million for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program.
Of these other programs, the Emergency Conservation Program may provide farmers and ranchers the best opportunity to receive up to 100 percent cost-share payments to remove storm debris, rebuild fences and provide water for livestock in drought situations. This $200 million for ECP is in addition to the $63 million already distributed by the USDA to agricultural producers impacted by hurricanes during 2005 in the Gulf Coast region.
Other loan and grant opportunities are available from USDA, and much of this information is available online at http://www.fsa.usda.gov.
“Producers need to investigate every opportunity that comes along,” Anderson said. “As a general principal, the better your documentation and records are, the better you will be able to apply for these programs, document your losses and ascertain the level of support for which you may be eligible.”