Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced the Farm Service Agency (FSA) will make disaster emergency loans available to farmers in 79 Texas counties who suffered losses caused by severe storms, tornadoes and flooding during the month of May that resulted in crop destruction and damages to other agricultural operations.
Calling the wettest month on record in Texas both "a blessing and a disaster," USDA officials estimate farmers across the state are facing either flooded or inaccessible fields that could result in unharvested wheat or low-quality grain crops later this year.
While the state received as much as 35 trillion gallons of rainwater in May, effectively ending a multiple year drought across the state, continuing moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, combined with unstable air aloft, has flared a number of serious thunderstorms in June already, compounding concerns that the 2015 growing season could represent a challenging year for farmers and ranchers across the state.
According to FSA officials in Texas, farmers may be eligible for emergency loans of up to 100 percent of their actual losses, or operating loans they may need to continue their agricultural operations this season, whichever is less. For farmers unable to obtain credit from private commercial lenders, the interest rate for the emergency loans could be as low as 3.375 percent.
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"It is important for producers to report crop and livestock loss and damages as soon as the loss or damage becomes apparent," says FSA Farm Loan Manager Roel Garza in Alice. "We encourage farmers to get their applications in early rather than waiting. The longer they wait the more chance there is for loan delays."
FSA officials say farmers who have lost at least 30 percent of their production or suffered physical losses due to violent weather in May are eligible for the loan program.
In addition to crop losses, FSA says floods can result in loss of livestock, feed or forage. FSA’s Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) pays producers for the death of commercial livestock due to flooding and other natural disasters. FSA’s Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP) provides financial compensation for livestock feed and grazing losses. It also covers some livestock deaths not covered by the Livestock Indemnity Program.
FSA’s low-interest Emergency Loan Program may be used to restore or replace essential property, pay all or part of production costs associated with the disaster year, pay essential family living expenses, reorganize the farming operation and refinance certain debts. In addition, FSA’s Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) provides emergency funding and technical assistance for farmers and ranchers to rehabilitate farmland damaged by floods and other natural disasters. The program includes replacing conservation measures such as fencing along a stream.
Additional assistance may be available through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through the Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP), which provides funding to project sponsors for such work as clearing debris from clogged waterways, restoring vegetation, and stabilizing river banks. The measures that are taken must be environmentally and economically sound and generally benefit more than one property owner.
Also, farmers may qualify for assistance through the Rural Development’s (RD) Home Repair Program, which can help people with damaged homes that need rehabilitation and repair. In an emergency, USDA can also help rural residents manage payments on existing loans or get new loans for needed repairs.
USDA says while crop insurance will give many farmers the chance to start over next year, it will not cover all of their losses from this season. But emergency loan programs like the one available in many Texas counties could provide needed funds to help farmers and ranchers salvage their current operations.
For more information about the loan program and to discover how to apply, officials say farmers in the designated counties should contact their nearest FSA office.