In the aftermath of a string of natural disasters during the 2011 cropping season, the USDA has announced $308 million will be provided in aid to 33 states and Puerto Rico. The funds will come in addition to crop insurance and disaster payments previously promised under SURE and the Livestock Indemnity Program.

“2011 was a record year for farming and agriculture throughout the United States,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack during a Wednesday afternoon press conference. “Farmers experienced a record amount of income and saw record exports (and) safer food. (There was also) a variety of opportunities to increase markets from local and regional food systems to bio-based products.

“2011 was also a year that saw a substantial number of natural disasters that impacted close to 55 million acres of farmland across the country. Floods, drought, and tropical storms did a great deal of damage throughout the country.”

The $308 million will be available to producers and communities “as quickly as possible. We’re making the announcement now so as producers begin spring plans … they know they’ll have resources available to finance repairs or improvements.”

The funds will be split between three projects: the Emergency Conservation Program, the Emergency Forest Restoration Program, and the Emergency Watershed Protection Program.  

The $308 million is divided as follows:

  • $215.7 million to the Emergency Watershed Protection Program (under the NRCS) will provide financial and technical assistance to assist public safety and restoration.

“Funding is allocated to a project and NRCS will then contract heavy construction work with local contractors,” said Vilsack. “Typical projects funded with the program include removing debris from waterways, protecting stream banks, reseeding damaged areas and in some cases, with landowner’s permission, purchasing flood plain easements on eligible land.”

  • $80 million to the Emergency Conservation Program (under the FSA) will provide resources to remove debris from farmland, to restore livestock fences, conservation structures and provide water for livestock during severe drought.

The USDA county committees “assisted us in determining the eligibility based on on-site inspections of damaged land.”

  • $12 million to the Emergency Forest Restoration Program (under the FSA).

“This will provide payments to eligible owners of non-industrial private forested land in order to … restore land damaged by natural disaster.”

The payments are “a critical component of the safety net provided to (those) impacted by natural disasters,” said Vilsack. “It highlights the importance of having that safety net, whether crop insurance (some $17.2 billion paid out over the last three years to 325,000 producers) or supplementing the disaster assistance programs under the 2008 farm bill (having benefited some 250,000 producers with over $3.5 billion in payments).”