The U.S. Department of Agriculture is announcing the availability of more than $6 million in funding to implement practices that will help private farmers, ranchers and forest landowners affected by the wildfires blazing in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
“We have seen the devastating effects of these wildfires on agricultural operations, and the funding announced today can help communities of farmers and ranchers start the process of recovery,” acting deputy agriculture secretary Michael Young said. “USDA is here to offer assistance, and I encourage producers who experienced losses to take full advantage of our financial and technical assistance to aid in their recovery efforts and alleviate part of the financial burden caused by these tragic events.”
The funding, made available by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), will assist local producers as they begin to restore scorched grazing land, rebuild fencing, protect damaged watersheds and implement various conservation measures to mitigate losses.
“I am pleased USDA has acted swiftly to aid producers recovering from the largest wildfire in state history,” Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) said. “For many Kansans, the impacts are devastating because the fires not only consumed livestock, grazing lands and fencing but, in some cases, homes, machinery and equipment, too.”
He added that lessons are still being learned from the response to the Anderson Creek fires last year that can be applied to this response and recovery effort.
During a House Agriculture Committee hearing Tuesday afternoon, the $125,000 cap that is allowed under disaster assistance provisions was mentioned as a hurdle for many producers. Bob Buchholz, who testified on behalf of the American Sheep Industry Assn. and raises livestock in Texas, said he has seen firsthand the impact of wildfires devouring fences and the struggle to keep livestock safe.
He said the payment limit is an issue, especially at that level of devastation. “It doesn’t take much with livestock now to hit that cap,” he told House members. “When you add fencing, it quickly adds up.”
Buchholz did say the wildfires he experienced were not the size and scope of recent week’s activities, but he was very impressed with the NRCS personnel in local offices who got “boots on the ground” quickly to help producers get back on their feet.
EQIP is a voluntary program that provides agricultural producers with financial and technical assistance to help them plan and implement conservation practices that address priority local and state resource concerns.
States will begin accepting applications in the near future. Producers must submit a complete program application, establish “farm records” and other documentation to support eligibility to be considered for financial assistance through EQIP. Step-by-step assistance can be found at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/getstarted.