The U.S. Department of Agriculture is making available $800 million to agricultural producers in Alabama, Florida and Georgia affected by hurricanes Michael and Florence. The state block grants are part of a broader, $3 billion package to help producers recover from 2018 and 2019 natural disasters, which includes the Wildfire & Hurricane Indemnity Program-Plus (WHIP+) as well as programs for loss of milk and stored commodities.
“Natural disasters dealt producers some hefty blows in the past couple of years,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said. “This relief complements USDA’s tool chest of disaster assistance programs and crop insurance. In many cases, these special programs help us better reach producers who suffered substantial losses beyond what our regular programs cover. While we can’t make producers whole, we can give them a helping hand to get back on their feet and prepare for next year’s planting and harvest.”
USDA, along with the governor’s office in Florida and the state departments of agriculture in the other two states, is working out final details for the grants, which will cover qualifying losses not covered by other USDA disaster programs. Grant funding will cover losses of timber, cattle and poultry as well as necessary expenses related to losses of horticulture crops and present value losses associated with pecan production.
For covered commodities, USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) opened the signup for WHIP+ in September and has since distributed millions of dollars in assistance to producers throughout the country to help with recovery from 2018 and 2019 disasters. Signup for the program continues into 2020.
WHIP+, the block grants, the Milk Loss Program and the On-Farm Storage Loss Program were authorized by the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019.
USDA crop insurance programs in 2018 paid indemnities of $489 million to producers affected by the hurricanes that devastated the Southeast. Many producers in the area also received help through USDA’s Emergency Conservation Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program or Emergency Forest Restoration Program.
Farmers affected by flooding and excess moisture in 2019 have received assistance through the prevented planting provisions in their crop insurance policies. So far this year, producers reported that they were prevented from planting on nearly 20 million acres -- a modern record. Indemnities from crop insurance have surpassed $4 billion this year, with almost $3.9 billion of that going to producers unable to plant because of flooding or excess moisture.
The Disaster Relief Act also authorized a “top-up” payment for producers who made prevented planting claims. USDA has distributed nearly $570 million in top-up payments through producers’ approved insurance providers. Additional payments will be made in the middle of each month as more prevented planting claims are processed.
Farmers who planted cover crops on prevented plant acres were able to hay, graze or chop those fields earlier than November this year while maintaining eligibility for their full 2019 prevented planting indemnity. USDA adjusted the 2019 final haying and grazing date from Nov. 1 to Sept. 1 to help farmers who were prevented from planting because of flooding and excess rainfall this spring. The agency also determined that silage, haylage and baleage should be treated in the same manner as haying and grazing this year.
USDA also has disaster assistance programs for losses of trees, bushes, vines, beehives, farm-raised fish and livestock. To help producers prepare for and recover from catastrophic natural disasters, USDA additionally provides credit through emergency loans and through feed and forage loss compensation, watershed protection, non-insured crops coverage and land rehabilitation programs.
USDA has further accommodated producers affected by weather-related challenges by increasing program availability and flexibility. USDA’s Risk Management Agency, which administers federal crop insurance, has assisted producers this year by deferring accrual of interest on insurance premiums and extending acreage reporting deadlines. Additionally, USDA has made payments through the Market Facilitation Program to producers suffering from the effects of retaliatory tariffs on their products from some U.S. trading partners.