A commentary by Wisconsin Farm Service Agency State Executive Director Brad Pfaff.
As drought continues to affect most of the country, our thoughts and prayers are with the thousands of farm families who have been affected by this disaster.
President Obama has called the U.S. government's approach to drought assistance an "all-hands-on-deck effort," and he has directed USDA and other federal agencies to find additional ways to help those impacted by drought. To date, USDA has taken a wide variety of administrative action that I want to be sure Wisconsin farmers are made aware.
First and foremost, USDA streamlined the disaster designation process that has allowed USDA to quickly, efficiently authorize emergency aid for producers, including here in Wisconsin, where 23 counties have been declared primary disaster areas for drought.
Earlier this summer, USDA lowered the interest rate for Farm Service Agency emergency loans from 3.75 percent to 2.25 percent and authorized emergency haying and grazing on additional lands enrolled in USDA conservation programs. We also reduced the payment reduction for emergency haying and grazing CRP land from 25 percent to 10 percent.
Sec. Vilsack personally encouraged crop insurance companies to provide a short grace period for farmers on unpaid insurance premiums - and all of the major crop insurance companies have agreed to do so.
In August, we announced that NRCS and FSA are providing an additional $30 million nationwide to help producers move emergency water supplies and repair damaged lands.
President Obama and Sec. Vilsack traveled to Iowa to survey drought-stricken cropland, and to announce that USDA intends to purchase up to $170 million in meat, poultry and farm-raised fish to help deliver additional relief for livestock producers.
Recently, changes were authorized to the crop insurance program granting producers the flexibility to plant cover crops this fall. Under the new authorization, a forage crop for grazing or the harvesting of a spring forage crop may be planted without harming the following/subsequent year's crop's eligibility for crop insurance.
However, to ensure that the subsequent crop is not negatively impacted by the harvesting of this forage cover crop, producers must check with their crop insurance agents regarding these 2013 provisions.
The President has convened ongoing meetings of the White House Rural Council to ensure that all federal agencies are doing everything they can to help.
For example, the Small Business Administration has worked to increase emergency lending for small businesses, farmers and producers and the Department of Transportation is waiving certain requirements on commercial trucks, to get more drivers on the road in the relief effort.
The biggest challenge that the President faces today in carrying out the relief effort is the fact that the 2008 Farm Bill disaster assistance programs expired at the end of last year. These programs were implemented under President Obama and prior to expiring delivered more than 400,000 disaster assistance payments to U.S. farmers and producers, totaling more than $4 billion.
Our preference remains that drought assistance be enacted as part of a comprehensive, multi-year Food, Farm and Jobs Bill, to ensure that USDA has tools to keep growing the rural economy, give more certainty to American farmers and producers, and provide help to producers in need.
I encourage any farmer or producer with questions to contact their FSA office, because even with limited legal authority, USDA has worked hard to offer tools to help you. You can also visit USDA's drought web site - www.usda.gov/drought
- for the latest information.
As the drought continues, President Obama, Sec. Vilsack and all of us at USDA won't stop looking for ways to help farmers and producers in this difficult time.