The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is providing $10.9 million in technical and financial assistance to help farmers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands repair damage and rebuild following hurricanes Irma and Maria. This investment through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a farm bill conservation program, is one option available through USDA to aid with recovery.
“USDA remains committed to helping the people of Puerto Rican agriculture with every means at our disposal. With this funding, we can assist local farmers in repairing damages to their land and existing conservation practices caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said. “Through EQIP, we co-invest with farmers to repair and prevent soil erosion, address flooding and other water quality issues, as well as any other resource concerns resulting from high rainfall events and flooding.”
To expedite disaster recovery, NRCS is issuing waivers allowing farmers to receive payment and begin implementing key conservation practices prior to contract approval. Practices can include disposal of dead livestock, construction of animal mortality facilities, replacement of roofs and covers on agricultural buildings and debris removal. Participants are asked to file an EQIP application and a waiver to start implementing a practice.
Meanwhile, farmers who have worked with NRCS previously are also eligible to get assistance to implement new conservation practices or repair failed practices.
NRCS accepts EQIP applications year-round in a continuous signup, but landowners must submit their applications by Jan. 19, 2018, to be considered for this disaster recovery funding. Farmers and ranchers should visit their local USDA service center to apply. Caribbean NRCS office listings and phone numbers can be found at www.pr.nrcs.usda.gov. Farmers may also call the Caribbean Area Disaster Recovery Bi-Lingual Hotline at (787) 303-0341.
In addition to assistance to agricultural producers, NRCS is helping local communities repair dams and infrastructure impacted by the hurricanes. NRCS is providing $1.75 million to local governments and entities through the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program to restore damaged and destroyed infrastructure. While EWP generally can pay up to 75% of the cost of emergency measures, in both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, President Donald Trump authorized 100% federal cost for debris removal and emergency protective measures until March 2018.
Four NRCS teams spent the last five weeks in the Caribbean region conducting damage survey assessments to determine potential sites and sponsors for EWP projects. Through the program, NRCS works with local government entities in affected areas to remove debris, stabilize stream banks and fix water control structures, among other practices.
Requests for assistance must be made within 60 days of the storm event.
The announcement builds on investments USDA has made to support agricultural producers affected by the hurricanes. USDA’s Farm Service Agency offers multiple programs in Puerto Rico and across the nation to help with disaster recovery, including compensation for livestock death and feed losses, risk coverage for specialty crops and repair of damaged agricultural and private forest lands. Most recently, the agency added emergency assistance for dairies in Puerto Rico to help provide feed for their remaining cattle. USDA’s Risk Management Agency also offers several federal crop insurance plans to help producers overcome natural catastrophes.