Over the past several years, livestock producers have suffered through long-term drought, blizzards and other extreme weather-related disasters. Without the surety of disaster assistance programs, severe weather has caused economic hardship for producers and many have struggled to survive.
Since the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, which restored and strengthened disaster assistance programs, USDA has made quick implementation of these programs a top priority. I am pleased to say that thanks to the hard work of Farm Service Agency employees across the country to stand up these programs, farmers and ranchers can begin signing up for disaster assistance starting this Tuesday, April 15.
There are several different programs available, depending on the size and type of your farm or ranch operation. For livestock producers, the Livestock Indemnity Program and the Livestock Forage Disaster Program will provide payments to eligible producers for livestock deaths and grazing losses that have occurred since the expiration of the livestock disaster assistance programs in 2011, and including calendar years 2012, 2013, and 2014. For certain losses not covered by these programs, the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program provides emergency assistance to eligible producers of livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish.
Enrollment also begins on April 15 for the Tree Assistance Program (TAP), which provides financial assistance to qualifying orchardists and nursery tree growers to replant or rehabilitate trees, bushes and vines damaged by natural disasters.
To ensure that your application moves through the process as smoothly as possible, I encourage producers to collect thorough records documenting your losses, 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;
I also encourage you to contact your county office ahead of time for more information on the types of records you'll need to apply for disaster assistance, and to schedule an appointment to apply. More information is available at disaster.fsa.usda.gov.
The Farm Bill makes a number of other changes to USDA programs that will impact farmers and ranchers, including recently-announced changes to farm loan programs that help support existing operations and invests in new farmers and ranchers. Visit www.usda.gov/farmbill for more information about our progress towards full implementation of all farm bill programs.
Tom Vilsack is the U.S. Agriculture Secretary and the former governor of Iowa.