Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman has announced that signup for the 2000 Crop Disaster Program will begin at county Farm Service Agency offices on Jan. 18.

Disaster payments totaling an estimated $3.6 billion will be made under the program, which was included in the fiscal 2001 agricultural appropriations bill passed by Congress in October.

Unlike disaster programs in recent years, funding for the 2000 program is not limited. Thus, USDA will not have to pro-rate payments and farmers should begin receiving the aid when payment criteria have been met.

"The disaster payments will mean the difference in staying in or getting out of farming for a lot of us," said a Coahoma County, Miss., farmer. "We really need this money."

FSA personnel will follow the same rules for the 2000 disaster program as in 1999 with the exception that no national payment factor will apply. Thus, farmers must have experienced crop losses of at least 35 percent to qualify for the emergency assistance payments.

Besides payments for row crop producers, Congress included $490 million for assistance to livestock producers and $473 million for dairy assistance in the 2000 program.

State FSA Committees are being asked to review the 1999 crop table for changes, additions or deletions in payment rates or yield numbers for 2000. The crop table will be issued with updated USDA Risk Management Agency prices.

Under the 2000 program, farmers will have two sign-ups to consider. The first will be for producers who want to combine their quality and yield losses as in previous programs. The second will be for producers who want to apply for the new quality loss benefits Congress provided for 2000.

The new program does limit claims for losses on double-cropped acres unless there is an established practice of planting two or more crops for harvest on the same acreage in the same year.

The cutoff date for applications for the 2000 program has not been determined, but will be announced as soon as possible, Glickman said.