Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman has announced that sign-up for the expanded Livestock Compensation Program will begin April 1. She also said the Tobacco Payment Program benefit signup will begin March 17.

Veneman said the implementation team is working on details regarding other program benefits, including the recently signed Agricultural Disaster Assistance Act, and said information about these other sign-up dates will be announced in the near future.

USDA has also launched a Website, located at www.usda.gov, that provides producers one location for details on these programs, questions and answers, allows for comments and suggestions on program implementation, as well as other information on USDA agriculture assistance.

“USDA is committed to providing these disaster program benefits to producers as quickly as possible and today's announcement is the first step in meeting those expectations,” said Veneman. “Our implementation team is examining ways to cut the red tape and expedite the process where possible and the new Website provides the ability for producers to make suggestions on how we might work more efficiently in meeting that goal.”

Both the LCP and the TOPP programs can begin quickly because program systems are in place and the programs are relatively easy to administer.

LCP sign-up will begin on April 1 and is scheduled to end in early June. The Act expands LCP by including additional counties that were approved under a secretarial disaster designation or Presidential disaster declaration for damages and losses due to any natural disaster. The Act also includes catfish as an eligible commodity.

Previously under LCP, a county must have been named as a primary county under a secretarial disaster designation between Jan. 1, 2001, and Sept. 19, 2002, only for drought. The Act expands LCP to make eligible any counties that were requested as primary disaster areas under a presidential or secretarial declaration by Feb. 20, and that were subsequently approved.

To be eligible for LCP assistance, a producer's livestock operation headquarters must be physically located in a county with a qualifying disaster designation. Eligible livestock are cattle, sheep, goats, and buffalo, as well as catfish. Counties named as contiguous counties are not eligible for the program. LCP payments will be based on losses per head or number of eligible livestock and catfish.

To sign up for LCP assistance, eligible producers should visit their local FSA offices on April 1. USDA anticipates more than 700 additional counties will be made eligible for LCP under the Act. LCP was originally administered in 2,149 counties.

Sign-up for TOPP will begin March 17 and is scheduled to end May 16. The program provides an estimated $53 million to tobacco producers. Eligible applicants are quota holders and producers of all kinds of tobacco under USDA's 2002 tobacco program. Payments are expected to be issued between mid-May and June 1. To apply for TOPP assistance, eligible persons should visit their local USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices beginning March 17.

The Act, signed into law on Feb. 20, authorizes total disaster aid estimated at $3.1 billion for producers suffering from natural disasters and related conditions. USDA will announce sign-up as quickly as possible for other assistance provided by the Act. The new law reimburses producers for qualifying crop losses in either 2001 or 2002 due to damaging weather or related conditions and provides $250 million for the Livestock Assistance Program to reimburse producers for grazing losses; $60 million for sugarcane producers; $60 million for sugar beet producers; and $50 million for the cottonseed industry. The Secretary said information about these other sign-up dates will be announced in the coming weeks. Interested parties will also want to consult the program regulations when issued.

USDA's Farm Service Agency has developed a Website that provides producers with one convenient location for details on new and existing FSA disaster assistance. The Website can be accessed at http://www.usda.gov or at http://disaster.fsa.usda.gov

“The new Website gives farmers and ranchers immediate access to information on programs authorized by the Agricultural Assistance Act of 2003,” said Jim Little, FSA administrator. “Producers who have suffered from disaster conditions can turn to this site for timely details on these important issues.”