USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced new flexibility and assistance with the department's major conservation programs in an effort to help livestock producers affected by widespread drought. He also announced plans to encourage crop insurance companies to provide a short grace period for farmers on unpaid insurance premiums.
"Beginning today, USDA will open opportunities for haying and grazing on lands enrolled in conservation programs while providing additional financial and technical assistance to help landowners through this drought. And we will deliver greater peace of mind to farmers dealing with this worsening drought by encouraging crop insurance companies to work with farmers through this challenging period," Vilsack elaborated.
Today's efforts to create and encourage flexibility involves the following USDA conservation programs: Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), and the Federal Crop Insurance Program.
CRP: To assist farmers and ranchers affected by drought, Vilsack is using his discretionary authority to allow additional acres under CRP to be used for haying or grazing under emergency conditions. The action today will allow lands that are not yet classified as "under severe drought" but that are "abnormally dry" to be used for haying and grazing. This will increase available forage for livestock. Haying and grazing will only be allowed following the local primary nesting season, which has already passed in most areas. Especially sensitive lands such as wetlands, stream buffers and rare habitats will not be eligible.
EQIP: USDA will allow farmers and ranchers to to modify current EQIP contracts to allow for prescribed grazing, livestock watering facilities, water conservation and other conservation activities to address drought conditions.
WRP: Vilsack also authorized haying and grazing of WRP easement areas in drought-affected areas where such haying and grazing is consistent with conservation of wildlife habitat and wetlands. For producers with land currently enrolled in WRP, NRCS has expedited its Compatible Use Authorization (CUA) process to allow for haying and grazing. The compatible use authorization process offers NRCS and affected producers with the management flexibility to address short-term resource conditions in a manner that promotes both the health of the land and the viability of the overall farming operation.
Crop Insurance: To help producers who may have cash flow problems due to natural disasters, USDA will encourage crop insurance companies to voluntarily forego charging interest on unpaid crop insurance premiums for an extra 30 days, to Nov. 1, 2012, for spring crops. Policy holders who are unable to pay their premiums in a timely manner accrue an interest penalty of 1.25% per month until payment is made. In an attempt to help producers through this difficult time, Vilsack sent a letter to crop insurance companies asking them to voluntarily defer the accrual of any interest on unpaid spring crop premiums by producers until November. In turn, to assist the crop insurance companies, USDA will not require crop insurance companies to pay uncollected producer premiums until one month later.