WASHINGTON, July 11, 2012- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced several changes to USDA disaster programs in response to the drought enveloping large parts of the country as the House Agriculture Committee marked up its farm bill today. One of the changes automatically qualifies a county as a disaster area once it is categorized by the U.S. Drought Monitor as a severe drought for eight consecutive weeks during the growing season. 

As a result of the updated secretarial appointment, more than 1,000 primary counties in 26 states will be designated as natural disaster areas effective Thursday.  State governors may still, but are no longer required, to order a disaster declaration.  A natural disaster designation makes all qualified farm operators in the designated areas eligible for low interest emergency loans from USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA). However, a county must meet the eligibility requirements to either show a 30 percent production loss of at least one crop countywide, or a decision must be made by surveying producers to determine that other lending institutions are not able to provide emergency financing.

Vilsack said the new designation process will “provide better service to farmers and ranchers by reducing by approximately 40 percent the amount of time required for designating a disaster area.”

Effective July 15, the reduced interest rate for emergency loans lowers the current rate from 3.75 percent to 2.25 percent. USDA also announced that the annual rental payment by producers on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres used for emergency haying or grazing will be reduced to 10 percent in 2012, instead of 25 percent.

Vilsack said USDA recognized that drought conditions are causing difficulties for livestock producers and that they requested USDA become more flexible in CRP Emergency Haying and Grazing.

“The finalized rule on a streamlined design process, providing immediate relief, reducing the loan rate and the cost of using haying and grazing are designed to provide some assistance,” Vilsack said in a media call today. “I want to point out, however, that we have limited tools, because of the expiration of disaster programs under the 2008 food, farm and jobs bill. That’s why it’s extremely important for House Agriculture leadership and the work they are doing to result in a markup of a bill and have that bill come to the floor and get voted on.”


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