Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined President Barack Obama in Fresno, Calif., today to announce that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide additional assistance to help farmers, ranchers and residents affected by severe drought in California. At President Obama's direction, USDA has made implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill livestock disaster assistance programs a top priority and plans to have the programs available for sign up by April 15, 2014.
"President Obama and I will continue to do everything within our power to support California farmers, ranchers and families living in drought-stricken areas. This assistance, coupled with other aid being made available across government, should provide some relief during this difficult time," said Vilsack. "Thanks to the newly-signed Farm Bill, we are now able to offer long-awaited livestock disaster assistance, which will provide needed stability for California livestock producers impacted by drought."
USDA has declared 54 counties in California as primary natural disaster areas due to drought. Additional USDA resources announced for California and other drought-stricken states today include:
• $100 million in livestock disaster assistance for California producers. The 2014 Farm Bill contains permanent livestock disaster programs including the Livestock Forage Disaster Program, which will help producers in California and other areas recover from the drought. At President Obama's direction, USDA is making implementation of the disaster programs a top priority and plans to have the programs available for sign up in 60 days. Producers will be able to sign up for the livestock disaster programs for losses not only for 2014 but for losses they experienced in 2012 and 2013. While these livestock programs took over a year to get assistance out the door under the last Farm Bill– USDA has committed to cut that time by more than 80 percent and begin sign-up in April. California alone could potentially receive up to $100 million for 2014 losses and up to $50 million for previous years.
• $15 million in targeted conservation assistance for the most extreme and exceptional drought areas. This includes $5 million in additional assistance to California and $10 million for drought-impacted areas in Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado and New Mexico. The funding is available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) administered by USDA. The assistance helps farmers and ranchers implement conservation practices that conserve scarce water resources, reduce wind erosion on drought-impacted fields and improve livestock access to water.
• $5 million in targeted Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program assistance to the most drought impacted areas of California to protect vulnerable soils. EWP helps communities address watershed impairments due to drought and other natural occurrences. This funding will help drought-ravaged communities and private landowners address watershed impairments, such as stabilizing stream banks and replanting upland sites stripped of vegetation.
• $60 million has been made available to food banks in the State of California to help families that may be economically impacted by the drought. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing help to food banks through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).
• 600 summer meal sites to be established in California's drought stricken areas. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is working with the California Department of Education to target efforts to expand the number of Summer Food Service Program meal sites this summer. There are expected to be close to 600 summer meal sites throughout the drought stricken areas.
• $3 million in Emergency Water Assistance Grants for rural communities experiencing water shortages. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is making $3 million in grants available to help rural communities that are experiencing a significant decline in the quality or quantity of drinking water due to the drought obtain or maintain water sources of sufficient quantity and quality. These funds will be provided to eligible, qualified communities by application through USDA-Rural Development's Emergency Community Water Assistance Grants (ECWAG). California state health officials have already identified 17 small community water districts in 10 counties that are at risk of running out of water in 60-120 days. This number is expected to increase if current conditions persist.
Today's announcements build on other recent USDA efforts to help farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners mitigate the impacts of drought. Last week, USDA announced $20 million in Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funds for agricultural conservation enhancements on key agricultural lands in California. These enhancements include irrigation efficiency, cover crops, orchard pruning, and protection of grazing lands. USDA also announced $15 million in Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) in available funding to state and local governments, Tribes, universities, businesses and agricultural producers. These grants are dedicated to stimulating the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches and technologies, including those that will help communities adapt to drought and climate change.
USDA also announced last week the establishment of regional Climate Hubs across the country that will help farmers, ranchers and communities get the information and data they need to make informed decisions around a changing climate. One center was established at the University of California, Davis.
As USDA begins implementing disaster assistance programs, producers should record all pertinent information of natural disaster consequences, including:
• Documentation of the number and kind of livestock that have died, supplemented if possible by photographs or video records of ownership and losses;
• Dates of death supported by birth recordings or purchase receipts;
• Costs of transporting livestock to safer grounds or to move animals to new pastures;
• Feed purchases if supplies or grazing pastures are destroyed;
• Crop records, including seed and fertilizer purchases, planting and production records;
• Pictures of on-farm storage facilities that were destroyed by wind or flood waters; and
• Evidence of damaged farm land.
For more information about today's announcements, visit the USDA drought resource page at www.usda.gov/drought.