Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced farmers may begin sign-up May 17 for four crop and livestock assistance programs designed to help producers unfortunate enough to be in the paths of the 2005 hurricanes.

Johanns authorized the programs, which will distribute $250 million in Section 32 funds, last October. He offered no explanation of why it took more than six months to begin the sign-up for the programs.

“We will do everything we can at USDA to continue to help people who have suffered through hurricanes and lost their crops, or who need help with cleanup or rebuilding their communities,” he said. “I strongly support targeted assistance to help people who are in need.”

Johanns' announcement came only a few days after the Bush administration announced it would oppose the disaster assistance provisions in a Senate Appropriations Committee-passed supplemental appropriations bill. Sponsors say the legislation would help farmers in all states who suffered losses from droughts, floods and record-high energy prices in 2005, not just those in the hurricanes' paths.

USDA is breaking the latest programs into four segments — the Livestock Indemnity Program, Feed Indemnity Program, Hurricane Indemnity Program and Tree Indemnity Program — to improve the ease of administering them across the six states that were hit by destructive hurricanes last year.

To be eligible for this assistance, a producer's loss must have occurred in one of 261 counties that received a primary presidential or secretarial disaster designation due to Hurricanes Dennis, Katrina, Ophelia, Rita or Wilma. A list of the eligible counties in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas is available at: http://www.usda.gov/HurricaneInfo.xml. The programs and their targeted recipients:

  • The Feed Indemnity Program will provide payments to eligible livestock owners and cash lessees who suffered feed losses or increased feed costs due to the hurricanes. To calculate program payments, FSA will multiply the national payment rate established for each livestock category by the number of eligible livestock.

  • The Hurricane Indemnity Program will provide payments to eligible producers who suffered crop losses and received either a Federal Crop Insurance Corporation crop insurance indemnity or a FSA Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) payment. Producers' HIP benefits will equal 30 percent of the crop insurance indemnity or 30 percent of the NAP payment.

  • The Tree Indemnity Program will provide payments to eligible owners of commercially grown fruit trees, nut trees, bushes and vines that produce an annual crop and were lost or damaged due to the hurricanes. FSA will base TIP payments on the crop's proximity to the hurricanes based on established tiers, which reflect the severity of damage from least to most severe.

  • USDA is also providing $25 million in block grants to the state governments of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas from Section 32 funds for aquaculture producers. The funds are to provide assistance to producers raising aquaculture species in a controlled environment as part of a farming operation. Governors or their designees will determine sign-up procedures for the assistance and will distribute the funds to eligible aquaculture producers to help them recover from the devastating effects of the hurricanes of 2005.

More information on the FIP, HIP, TIP and aquaculture grant programs is available in the online fact sheet at: www.fsa.usda.gov.

USDA officials said they still do not have a sign-up date for most of the $900 million in funds provided by the 2006 Defense Appropriations Act for farmers who suffered natural disaster damages from 2005 hurricanes. President Bush signed the legislation last December.

Of these funds, approximately $200 million is designated for the Emergency Conservation Program, $400 million for the Emergency Forestry Conservation Reserve Program, and $300 million for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program (which is available to communities and landowners in Tennessee, in addition to those in the six previously mentioned states).

“Sign-up dates for the Emergency Forestry Conservation Reserve Program will be announced as soon as new regulations and software are developed,” the Department said in a press release.

USDA has already made $63 million in Emergency Conservation Program funds available to assist agricultural producers struck by hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico region during the calendar year 2005. Eligible agricultural producers may receive up to 100 percent cost-share to remove debris and restore fences and conservation structures.

Additional funds for oyster, nursery and poultry producers and forest landowners will be made available when new rules authorizing assistance are published in the Federal Register. USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) is developing these rules and plans to publish proposed rules for public comment in the near future.

USDA officials said farmers in southwest Louisiana who have been prevented from planting rice because of the high salt content in fields inundated by Hurricane Rita can file claims for prevented planting losses — if they had federal crop insurance coverage in 2005.

“The Risk Management Agency, which administers the Federal crop insurance program, requires that producers use good farming practices to be eligible for insurance payments,” the statement said. “In the case of high salinity soil, this would include documentation that the soil was indeed too high in saline content to support plant growth. More information is available at www.rma.usda.gov.

“Producers purchasing crop insurance for the first time in 2006, would not be eligible for prevented planting coverage at this time because the hurricane surge occurred before the 2006 policy coverage took effect. Farmers with questions about insurance payments for saline soil related prevented planting losses should contact their insurance company or agent and should take care to document soil tests or other means of showing that high salinity exists.”

Additional information about USDA hurricane assistance is available at USDA Service Centers nationwide and online at http://www.usda.gov/HurricaneInfo.xml.

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