USDA Offers Disaster Assistance to Texas Farmers and Ranchers Impacted by Severe Weather

floodingTexas and other southern states have seen record amounts of rain this spring. • Photo by Janeé OrnelasU.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) Texas State Executive Director Judith Canales reminded farmers and ranchers, families and small businesses affected by flooding, high winds, and hail in Texas, that the USDA has several programs which provide assistance before, during, and after disasters. USDA staff in regional, state and county offices are ready to help.

The FSA administers many safety-net programs to help producers recover from eligible losses, including the Livestock Indemnity Program, the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP), Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP) and the Tree Assistance Program. The Emergency Conservation Program provides funding and technical assistance for farmers and ranchers to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters. Producers located in counties that received a primary or contiguous disaster designation are eligible for low-interest emergency loans to help them recover from production and physical losses. Compensation also is available to producers who purchased coverage through the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, which protects non-insurable crops against natural disasters that result in lower yields, crop losses or prevented planting. USDA encourages farmers and ranchers to contact their local FSA office to learn what documents can help the local office expedite assistance, such as farm records, receipts and pictures of damages or losses.

Producers should use form FSA-576, Notice of Loss, to report prevented planting and failed acres in order to establish or retain FSA program eligibility. Prevented planting acreage must be reported no later than 15 calendar days after the final planting date as established by the FSA and the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA). Producers must file a Notice of Loss for failed acres on all crops including grasses in a timely fashion, often within 15 days of the occurrence or when the losses become apparent. Producers of hand-harvested crops must notify FSA of damage or loss within 72 hours of when the date of damage or loss first becomes apparent.

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) also can help producers with damaged agricultural lands caused by natural disasters such as floods. The NRCS Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EQIP) provides financial assistance to repair and prevent excessive soil erosion that can result from high rainfall events and flooding. Conservation practices supported through EQIP protect the land and aid in recovery, can build the natural resource base, and might help mitigate loss in future events. For declared natural disasters that lead to imminent threats to life and property, NRCS can assist local government sponsors with the cost of implementing recovery efforts like debris removal and streambank stabilization to address natural resource concerns and hazards through the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN).

Producers with coverage through the RMA-administered federal crop insurance program should contact their crop insurance agent. Those who purchased crop insurance will be paid for covered losses. Producers should report crop damage within 72 hours of damage discovery and follow up in writing within 15 days.

The USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) coordinates with state, local and voluntary organizations to provide food for shelters and other mass feeding sites. The FNS also can issue Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits when the President declares a major disaster with individual assistance under the Stafford Act. States must request approval from the FNS to issue D-SNAP benefits in areas affected by a disaster.

Under certain circumstances, states also can release, with FNS approval, USDA foods to disaster relief agencies to distribute directly to households that are in need. However, a request by a State Governor and a Presidential emergency or disaster declaration are required in order to trigger disaster assistance under the Stafford Act.

When floods destroy or severely damage residential property, the USDA Rural Development (RD) can assist with providing priority hardship application processing for single family housing. Under a disaster designation, RD can issue a priority letter for next available multi-family housing units. RD also provides low-interest loans to community facilities, water environmental programs, businesses and cooperatives and to rural utilities.

Thr USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture provides support for disaster education through the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN). The EDEN’s goal is to improve the nation’s ability to mitigate, prepare for, prevent, respond to and recover from disasters. Through the land-grant universities and Cooperative Extension System across the nation, the EDEN links extension educators from various disciplines to share research-based resources to reduce the impact of disasters.

Severe weather forecasts often present the possibility of power outages that could compromise the safety of stored food. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recommends that consumers take the necessary steps before, during, and after a power outage to reduce food waste and minimize the risk of foodborne illness. The FSIS offers tips for keeping frozen and refrigerated food safe and a brochure that can be downloaded and printed for reference at home. For additional questions, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET or visit AskKaren.gov to chat live with a food safety specialist, available in English and Spanish.

For complete details and eligibility requirements regarding the USDA’s disaster assistance programs, contact a local USDA Service Center. More information about USDA disaster assistance as well as other disaster resources is available on the USDA Disaster Resource Center website. In a continuing effort to better serve the public, USDA has developed a new and improved central resource for disaster related materials. In partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other disaster-focused organizations, USDA created a Disaster Resource Center website, utilizing a new online searchable knowledgebase. This knowledgebase is a collection of disaster-related resources that are powered by agents with subject-matter expertise. The new Disaster Resource Center website and web tool now provide an easy access point to find USDA disaster information and assistance.