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Michelle Rook / Agweek

7 USDA programs that can help with flood recovery

Farm families in the Midwest have been fighting for their livelihoods as historic floodwaters killed livestock, destroyed bins, damaged homes and buildings and wiped out crucial roads and bridges. The bad news is that the devastating losses are likely to rise as the snow continues to melt across the nation's midsection.

In Nebraska, flood costs are "in the millions" and approaching "a billion dollars of direct impact to agriculture," Nebraska Agriculture Director Steve Wellman said recently.

Flooding is not all that uncommon this time of year in the Midwest, but this year, it seems more widespread. Severe storms and excessive water have been causing problems across the Dakotas, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and down into Arkansas and Mississippi.

The flooding is also causing problems for grain transportation on other waterways as well, including locations downriver from where the Missouri River flows into the Mississippi River, just north of St. Louis.

Several locks and dams "are projected to be closed for the foreseeable future," Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition told Agri-Pulse. He added barge flotillas had to be shortened because "it's just harder to pilot a 1,200-foot-long barge flotilla in these kinds of conditions." Some segments of the river would only let barges come through during the day, Steenhoek said.

The good news is that neighbors are helping neighbors and state and federal leaders are stepping up disaster aid. Last week, President Donald Trump approved a disaster declaration for the states of Iowa and Nebraska.

"While farmers and ranchers in the area are resilient, the pain is real. We will do everything in our power at USDA to be as helpful as we possibly can," noted Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. Here are some of the U.S. Department of Agriculture programs that might be able to assist:

1. Emergency Loan Program: The Emergency Loan Program is triggered when a natural disaster is designated by the secretary of agriculture or a natural disaster or emergency is declared by the president under the Stafford Act. These loans help producers who suffer qualifying farm-related losses directly caused by the disaster in a county declared or designated as a primary disaster or quarantine area. Also, farmers in counties that are contiguous to the declared, designated, or quarantined area may qualify for emergency loans.

For production losses, a 30-percent reduction in a primary crop in a designated or contiguous county is required. Losses to quality, such as receiving a 30-percent reduced price for flood damaged crops, may be eligible for assistance, too.

2. Livestock Indemnity Program: Livestock owners and contract growers who experience above-normal livestock deaths due to specific weather events, as well as to disease or animal attacks, may qualify for assistance under this program through the Farm Service Agency. LIP payments for owners are based on national payment rates that are 75 percent of the market value of the applicable livestock as determined by the secretary. Rates for contract growers of poultry or swine will not exceed the rates for owners but are based on 75 percent of national average input costs for the applicable livestock.

3. Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program: NAP provides financial assistance to producers of noninsurable crops when low yields, loss of inventory, or prevented planting occur because of natural disasters. Eligible crops must be commercially produced agricultural commodities for which crop insurance is not available. Eligible producers must apply for coverage using form CCC-471 and pay the applicable service fee at the FSA office where their farm records are maintained.

4. Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program ELAP provides payments to these producers to help compensate for losses because of disease (including cattle tick fever), and adverse weather or other conditions, such as blizzards and flooding, that are not covered by certain other disaster programs. Producers can apply to receive ELAP assistance at local FSA service centers.

5. Environmental Quality Incentives Program: Farmers, ranchers, and non-industrial private forestland owners can apply for resource assistance through EQIP. Recovery assistance includes but is not limited to: immediate soil erosion protection, minimizing noxious and invasive plant proliferation, protecting water quality, restoring livestock infrastructure necessary for grazing management, and emergency animal mortality management. Basically, any practice that is needed to address an approved resource may be eligible. This could include new practices or repairing a failed practice, such as flood-damaged fencing, from a previous EQIP contract. In some cases, a new contract won't be needed. You may be able to add a practice to your existing EQIP contract through a modification, according to USDA.

6. Emergency Watershed Protection Program: The EWP program offers technical and financial assistance to help local communities such as cities, counties and towns relieve imminent hazards to life and property caused by floods, fires, windstorms, and other natural occurrences that impair a watershed. Administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the EWP Program consists of two options: EWP Program — Recovery and EWP — Floodplain Easement.  Under the recovery program, NRCS may pay up to 75 percent of the construction cost of emergency measures. The remaining 25 percent must come from local sources and can be in the form of cash or in-kind services.

7. Rural Development: From housing to safe drinking-water systems, Rural Development offers technical assistance, loans, grants and loan guarantees to rural communities and individuals to assist with the construction or rehabilitation of utility infrastructure including water and wastewater systems and community infrastructure. Rural Development also is helping businesses and utilities that are current USDA borrowers by considering requests to defer principal and/or interest payments and to provide additional temporary loans.

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