Southwest farmers and ranchers who have suffered losses from the prolonged drought that has gripped most of the region since last fall or from wildfires that have burned more than 2 million acres, just in Texas, have several options for assistance.

Texas AgriLife Extension economist Jose Pena, who works on management issues out of Uvalde, says the USDA Farm Service Agency offers several programs to assist in recovery. Also, FSA recently announced that emergency grazing of Conservation Reserve Program acreage in 27 Texas counties has been authorized, effective May 12.

Eligible counties include: Armstrong, Borden, Carson, Castro, Collingsworth, Crosby, Deaf Smith, Dickens, Fisher, Floyd, Garza, Hale, Hansford, Haskell, Kent, Knox, Lipscomb, Lynn, Nolan, Oldham, Parmer, Potter, Scurry, Sherman, Stonewall, Swisher and Wilbarger.

Texas FSA Executive Director Juan M. Garcia says the current CRP emergency use authorization permits grazing only. No haying of CRP acres is allowed at this time. Additionally, a 25 percent CRP payment reduction for CRP acres used for grazing will accrue under these emergency provisions.

"Producers who are struggling to find forage acres for their livestock may take advantage of this opportunity," said Garcia. "Livestock producers can move their animals to land enrolled in CRP for up to 90 days beginning immediately after authorization is approved." 

Emergency CRP grazing authority is not limited to livestock producers who lost pasture or fences due to wildfire. Authorized producers may use the CRP acreage for their own livestock or may grant another livestock producer the use of the CRP acreage. The eligible CRP acreage is limited to the acreage within the approved counties.

Eligible producers who are interested in grazing CRP under the emergency authorization and current CRP participants who choose to provide land for grazing to an eligible livestock producer must first request approval to graze eligible acreage, obtain a modified conservation plan from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to include grazing requirements, leave at least 25 percent of each field or contiguous CRP field un-grazed for wildlife, or graze no more than 75 percent of the stocking rate as determined by NRCS.

Pena says other programs available include the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP); the Emergency for Livestock, Honeybees and farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP); the Non-insured Disaster Assistance Program (NAP); and the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments (SURE) Program.

“Agricultural producers are encouraged to contact the local FSA to obtain specific qualifying details about any of these programs,” Pena said.

He offers a few highlights of two programs that may be helpful to livestock producers.

“The Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) provides compensation to eligible livestock producers who have suffered grazing losses from drought,” he said. “Losses must have occurred on or after Jan. 1, 2008, and before Oct. 1, 2011, for covered livestock on land that is native or improved pasture with permanent vegetative cover or is planted specifically for grazing.”

Eligible livestock include alpacas, beef cattle, buffalo, beefalo, dairy cattle, deer, elk, emus, equine, goats, poultry, reindeer, sheep or swine that would have been grazing the eligible acreage during “normal grazing periods or when a federal agency excluded the livestock producer from grazing the normally permitted livestock on the managed rangeland due to fire.”

Pena said payments are based on data from the U.S. Drought Monitor. Monthly payments vary according to livestock type and range from $8.64 a head for sheep or goats to $34.57 for adult beef cattle.

“The number of payments varies, depending on the number of weeks under severe drought, extreme drought or exceptional drought, as rated by the U.S. Drought Monitor.”

An eligible livestock producer who undergoes severe drought for at least eight consecutive weeks during the normal grazing period is eligible to receive assistance in an amount equal to one monthly payment.

With extreme drought, a producer may receive assistance equal to two monthly payments. Producers with extreme drought for at least four weeks during the normal grazing period or the area is rated in exceptional drought at any time during that period are eligible to receive compensation equal to three monthly payments.

All payments must be for areas in counties with U.S. Drought Monitor ratings of at least severe drought. “Most Texas counties are eligible for the exceptional drought rating,” Pena said.

The Livestock Indemnity Program “provides benefits to livestock producers who have suffered livestock deaths in excess of normal mortality caused by adverse weather that occurred on or after Jan. 1, 2008, and before Oct. 1, 2011,” he said.

Losses may occur from hurricanes, floods, blizzards, disease, wildfires, extreme heat, and extreme cold. Eligibility requires a livestock producer to have legally owned eligible animals on the day the animals died.

“Payments vary from about $59 a head for slaughter goats and kids to about $971 for an adult bull.”

For more information on eligibility requirements for USDA disaster assistance, producers should contact the local FSA office. Also, www.fsa.usda.gov/Internet/FSA File/lip2011 158c020211 provides for more specific information, Pena said.