USDA offers assistance to farmers impacted by drought
By Jean Caspers-Simmet
Date Modified: 08/13/2012 1:08 PM
MASON CITY, Iowa —With last week's USDA crop report showing 35 percent of the nation's soybeans, 45 percent of corn and 55 percent of range and pasture land in poor to very poor condition, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced provisions to help farmers.
"Last week President Obama asked me to come over to the White House to talk about his concerns surrounding drought conditions through the country and to look for every possible way we could to provide assistance," Vilsack told politicians, farmers and biodiesel industry leaders last week at Soy Energy in Mason City.
USDA is expanding emergency haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program acres to areas designated on the Drought Monitor as "abnormally dry" or in "moderate" drought. Haying and grazing is already allowed in "severe, extreme or exceptional" drought areas. USDA has lowered payment reductions for CRP lands that qualify for emergency haying and grazing in 2012, from 25 percent to 10 percent.
"You can see that just about all counties in the country are included," Vilsack said, as he held up a map with eligible counties colored in red. All counties in Iowa and many in Minnesota are included.
Haying and grazing will only be allowed following the local primary nesting season, which has already passed in most areas. Sensitive lands such as wetlands, stream buffers and rare habitats won't be eligible.
The Farm Service Agency is authorized to allow producers to sell hay harvested through emergency haying for this year only.
"Given the breadth and severity of this situation, it may very well be an opportunity for folks to provide help to their neighbors who are suffering," Vilsack said.
Haying and grazing of Wetlands Reserve Program easement areas in drought-affected areas will be allowed where it is consistent with conservation of wildlife habitat and wetlands.
Vilsack announced modifications to current Environmental Quality Incentive Program contracts. These modifications will allow a rescheduling of practice applications. If the seriousness of the circumstance requires a cancellation of the contracts, that will be allowed. If practices were put in place, but because of the drought weren't successful, NRCS will look for opportunities to work with farmers to reapply these practices. There are limited Fiscal Year 2012 EQIP funds left and those will be focused on the areas hardest hit by drought.
To help producers who may have cash flow problems, USDA will encourage crop insurance companies to voluntarily fore-go charging interest on unpaid premiums for an extra 30 days to Nov. 1 for spring crops. In return, USDA won't require insurance firms to pay uncollected producer premiums during that grace period.
Vilsack has also lowered the interest rate on FSA emergency loans from 3.75 to 2.25 and created a more streamlined disaster declaration process.