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Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack announces new rounds of Emergency Relief and Pandemic Assistance programs

Tom Vilsack announced the latest phases of ERP and PAP through the USDA. Vilsack's other announcements were related to fertilizer costs, risk protection for underserved producers and meat processing.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Biden holds a video conference with farmers, ranchers and meat processors, in Washington
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack speaks during a video conference with farmers, ranchers and meat processors held by U.S. President Joe Biden from an auditorium on the White House campus in Washington, U.S. Jan. 3, 2022.
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters file photo
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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced new developments at the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday, Jan. 9, while speaking at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual convention. Among those developments was information about the latest phases of the Emergency Relief Program and Pandemic Assistance Revenue Program.

Applications will be taken for both programs from Jan. 23 through June 23. Vilsack's other announcements were related to fertilizer costs, risk protection for underserved producers and meat processing.

“At USDA, our goal is to provide all farmers, including new and underserved producers, with the opportunity to receive the assistance they need to continue farming, to build and maintain their competitive-edge, and to access more, new, and better markets,” said Vilsack. “Working together we can ensure American agriculture is as resilient as ever and will do so by implementing a holistic approach to emergency assistance, by lowering input costs through investments in domestic fertilizer production, and by promoting competition in agricultural markets.”

A man in a cowboy hat sits in a chair with his legs crossed and his hands holding onto his knee. He is speaking to a woman dressed in black seated nearby.
Farm Service Agency Administration Zach Ducheneaux on Wednesday, Sept. 14, talked with Carah Hart of the Red River Farm Show during the Big Iron Farm Show in West Fargo, North Dakota.
Jenny Schlecht / Agweek

The Emergency Relief Program's purpose was to address losses due to weather and natural disaster events in 2020 and 2021, Farm Service Agency administrator Zach Ducheneaux said. Much of the money that went out in that program went out automatically based on producers' use of existing farm programs, including crop insurance and the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program. ERP phase two primarily will be aimed at producers who were not eligible under those programs, and producers will have to show a decrease in revenue because of the eligible conditions, Ducheneax said.

Similarly, the Pandemic Assistance Revenue Program primarily is aimed at underserved producers who suffered losses during 2020 because of the pandemic, and Ducheneaux called it the "capstone" of pandemic assistance. He said eligible producers will have to show a loss in revenue in 2020 compared to 2018 or 2019. According to a statement from USDA, eligible producers must have farmed for at least part of the 2020 calendar year and had a 15% or greater decrease in allowable gross revenue as compared to a baseline year.

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"For both of these programs, we’re going to use information that is readily available from most of your tax records," Ducheneaux said. "It’s important for us to be able to get this disaster assistance to producers to help them get to the next production season."

USDA's fact sheets on the programs ( ERP Phase Two Fact Sheet and PARP Fact Sheet) , as well as a comparison on the two programs ( ERP Phase Two-PARP Comparison Fact Sheet), provide more detailed information on how they will work.

Ducheneaux said FSA staff will be trained soon on the new programs.

Fertilizer production expansion

Vilsack also announced USDA will soon begin accepting public comments on environmental and related aspects of 21 potentially viable projects to increase domestic fertilizer production that have requested grant funding through the first round of the USDA's Fertilizer Production Expansion Program . The projects are located in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.

USDA is seeking comments from the public on the following questions and projects pertaining to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA).  The 30-day public comment period will close Feb. 8, 2023. Additional information is available at www.rd.usda.gov/fpep-environmental-review-comments .

The Fertilizer Production Expansion Program is part of a whole-of-government effort to promote competition in agricultural markets. USDA has also released a summary of the comments received through a Request For Information on Access to Fertilizer: Competition and Supply Chain Concerns , which highlights the variety of concerns about the limited competition and dependence of foreign sources for significant amounts of fertilizer. 

Underserved producers

Vilsack announced that a new rule will remove barriers and establish procedures through which an underserved producer with a Socially Disadvantaged, Limited Resource, Beginning and Veteran Farmer or Rancher Certification on file prior to the applicable Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program application closing date will automatically receive basic coverage for any NAP-eligible crops they plant.

NAP provides financial assistance to producers of non-insurable crops when low yields, loss of inventory or prevented planting occur due to natural disasters. There is a Congressionally mandated fee waiver for basic coverage for underserved producers. However, a previous set of procedures and regulations created a paperwork burden that stood in the way of many producers taking advantage of the basic coverage option. The new rule clears up that problem.

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Underserved producers on file for 2022 will also receive retroactive basic coverage. Like all other covered producers, underserved producers will still need to file a notice of loss and apply for benefits. In addition to the basic catastrophic level coverage under NAP, producers can buy-up higher levels of coverage by paying a premium. Underserved producers receive a 50% discount on any premiums.

Producers who are interested in obtaining NAP coverage for 2023 should contact their local FSA county office for information on eligibility, coverage options and applying for coverage. FSA also plans to target outreach to previous producers of NAP-eligible crops to ensure these producers are aware of their options.  A NAP Fact Sheet offers more details.

Meat and poultry processing

Vilsack announced that a $962,954 Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program grant will help fund Benson + Turner Foods Inc. build a 6,788-square-foot cattle and hog processing plant on the White Earth Indian Reservation and storefront near Waubun, Minnesota. The grant will help the company achieve its goal of building a sustainable business that benefits the local economy by using locally grown livestock and providing new opportunities for producers to market their products by providing USDA-certified processing for them.

Vilsack also announced a $9,575,250 grant to turn a vacant building in Cleveland, Ohio, into a plant with a capacity to process 60 million pounds of poultry by International Food Solutions, a woman- and minority-owned business, and a $1,531,204 grant to Michigan Turkey Producers to help upgrade systems to accommodate an expansion at a plant in Grand Rapids that will double its processing capacity to 10 million turkeys a year.

The three new projects announced Monday are in addition to $74 million in 22 MPPEP projects previously announced, $75 million grants through the Meat and Poultry Intermediary Lending Program, $3.9 million in Value Added Producer Grants, and $5.7 million in Food Supply Chain Loan Guarantees.

Jenny Schlecht is the director of ag content for Agweek and serves as editor of Agweek, Sugarbeet Grower and BeanGrower. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at jschlecht@agweek.com or 701-595-0425.
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