The USDA says U.S. agriculture is in one of its most productive periods in American history--and it wants to keep it that way.
On Tuesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced new rules to get aid to farmers faster to keep them in the game after physical and financial losses because of floods, wildfires, drought, and other natural disasters.
Vilsack says the new rules will reduce processing time for farmer’s aid by developing a streamlined process to apply for aid. One step that has been removed is the requirement for a governor to request a disaster declaration before aid is disbursed. A natural disaster declaration makes qualified farms eligible for a variety of USDA assistance, including low interest emergency loans.
The changes will also reduce interest rates for emergency loans (from the current rate of 3.75 percent to 2.25 percent) and rental payments for farmers using Conservation Reserve Program emergency grazing lands (from 25 percent to 10 percent).
"Agriculture remains a bright spot in our nation's economy and it is increasingly important that USDA has the tools to act quickly and deliver assistance to farmers and ranchers when they need it most,” Vilsack said in a statement.
The final rule for Secretarial disaster designations:
• Qualifies a county for disaster aid once it is categorized by the U.S. Drought Monitor as a severe drought for eight consecutive weeks during the growing season.
• Streamlines the USDA Secretarial designation process, which is expected to provide better service to farmers and ranchers by reducing the amount of time required for designating a disaster area by 40 percent. Originally the USDA wanted a process that would reduce the time by 70 percent.
• Removes the requirement that a request for a disaster designation be initiated by a state governor, increasing the likelihood that counties will be covered. Indian tribal councils and governors may still submit a request for a designation, but it will not be required in order to initiate a disaster declaration.
• Applies the same criteria currently being used for triggering a disaster designation: a county must either show a 30 percent production loss of at least one crop countywide, or a decision must be made by surveying producers to determine that other lending institutions are not able to provide emergency financing.
Effective Thursday, 1,016 counties in 26 states will be designated as natural disaster areas, making all qualified farm operators in the designated areas eligible for low interest emergency loans from USDA's Farm Service Agency.
A link to the complete rule with its amendments and the new disaster declarations based on the rule wasn’t working Wednesday afternoon. The original six-step process is still available on the USDA Web site.
The USDA attributes record crop production to “the productivity, resiliency, and resourcefulness” of today’s farmers.
“A strong farm safety net is important to sustain the success of American agriculture,” says a USDA press release.