USDA announces new drought disaster aid measures

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2012-Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced two new pieces of disaster assistance for farmers and ranchers impacted by the nation's worsening drought. First, USDA is expanding emergency haying and grazing on approximately 3.8 million acres of conservation land for livestock producers dealing with shortages of hay and pastureland. Second, the Secretary announced that crop insurance companies have agreed to provide a short grace period for farmers on insurance premiums in 2012. The agreement provides an extra 30 days to make payments without incurring interest penalties on unpaid premiums.

Earlier today, Vilsack signed disaster designations for an additional 218 counties in 12 states as primary natural disaster areas due to damage and losses caused by drought and excessive heat. Counties designated today are in the states of Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyoming. More than half (50.3 percent) of all counties in the United States have been designated disaster areas by USDA in 2012, mainly due to drought.

"The assistance announced today will help U.S. livestock producers dealing with climbing feed prices, critical shortages of hay and deteriorating pasturelands,” Vilsack said. “Responding to my request, crop insurance companies indicated that producers can forgo interest penalties to help our nation's farm families struggling with cash flow challenges. The Obama Administration intends to continue helping those who farm or ranch and live and work in rural America through this period of hardship."

Vilsack said that livestock producers and other participants in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) will now be able to hay and graze acres that have been ineligible in the past. There are approximately 3.8 million acres that will now be eligible for emergency haying and grazing, subject to certain conditions.

Vilsack also announced today that crop insurance companies have agreed to provide a grace period for farmers on insurance premiums in 2012. To help producers who may have cash flow problems due to natural disasters, Vilsack sent a letter to crop insurance companies asking them to voluntarily defer the accrual of any interest on unpaid spring crop premiums by producers until November 1, 2012. In turn, USDA announced it will not require crop insurance companies to pay uncollected producer premiums until one month later.

Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, praised USDA for allowing haying of CRP lands designated “CP25” for the first time ever in response to historic drought. Grazing of CP25 lands was previously approved.

“I applaud USDA for taking this step to help producers suffering from drought. It is commonsense,” Roberts said. “Many producers were unable to graze these lands due to lack of fencing, access to water and other factors. This action will bring immediate relief to livestock producers across the country.”

Roberts called for releasing all CRP acres for emergency haying and grazing in a letter he wrote, signed by Republicans on the Senate Agriculture Committee, to Vilsack.

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