Thomas Fire Assistance Needs Improvement

Thomas Fire Assistance is Slow

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

The Thomas Fire in Ventura County was the largest wildfire in California history. We recently spoke with Henry Gonzalez, the Agricultural Commissioner for Ventura County, whose own home was affected by the fire, about the ongoing fallout from the disaster.

“I could see from my kitchen window the flame just onto the hill there, and fortunately, we’re protected by some of the orchards. Also, the wind was blowing in a favorable direction, so we were part of a voluntary evacuation area, so we were very fortunate,” Gonzalez said.

Henry Gonzalez

“We were ready to flee,” he explained. “We packed up our most prized possessions and were ready to leave at a moment’s notice. I stayed up until 2:00 in the morning that night of the fire, monitoring to see what was going to happen and then in the morning we saw that there was indeed still fire very close to my home.”

Gonzalez said that disaster assistance for agricultural losses is in need of reform.

“It’s a bit frustrating because some of the disaster assistance that’s out there through FSA, the Farm Service Agency wouldn’t pay until 2019,” he said.

“Any farmers or ranchers that had losses from the fire needed to have the money up front to pay for things, and that’s really not acceptable,” he continued.

“We need to have a disaster assistance program that meets the magnitude of the disaster,” Gonzalez said. “With the drought, that disaster happened slowly so people could make adjustments accordingly. But with something like this fire, it was so quick and of such magnitude that the assistance needs to also be as quick and matched the magnitude of the disaster.”

“And that’s where we really need to rethink what the FSA is doing and how they are doing it. It’s just a bureaucracy that goes so slow that by the time we get the assistance here, there’s going to be a number of agriculturalist that have gone out of business,”Gonzalez said.

USDA Disaster Assistance to Help Thousands of Honeybee, Livestock and Farm-Raised Fish Producers

The USDA announced that nearly 2,500 applicants will receive disaster assistance through the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP) for losses suffered from October 1, 2011, through September  30, 2013.

The program, re-authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, provides disaster relief to livestock, honeybee, and farm-raised fish producers not covered by other agricultural disaster assistance programs. Eligible losses may include excessive heat or winds, flooding, blizzards, hail, wildfires, lightning strikes, volcanic eruptions, and diseases, or in the case of honeybees, losses due to colony collapse disorder. Beekeepers, most of whom suffered honeybee colony losses, represent more than half of ELAP recipients.

“As promised, we’re making sure that thousands of producers who suffered through two and a half difficult years without Farm Bill assistance, are getting some relief,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Once the Farm Bill was restored, not only did we implement the disaster assistance programs in record time, we’re issuing payments less than three months after the enrollment deadline. The funds will hopefully help producers with some of the financial losses they sustained during that time.”

The Farm Bill caps ELAP disaster funding at $20 million per federal fiscal year. To accommodate the number of requests, which exceeded funds available for each of the affected years, payments will be reduced to ensure that all eligible applicants receive a prorated share of assistance.

ELAP was made possible through the 2014 Farm Bill, which builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for the taxpayer. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit  www.usda.gov/farmbill.

To learn more about USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) disaster assistance programs, visit the FSA factsheet page at  www.fsa.usda.gov/factsheets or contact your local FSA office at http://go.usa.gov/pYV3.

USDA Farm Service Agency Offers Several Disaster Assistance Programs

Farm Service Agency (FSA) has a variety of programs available to help farmers and ranchers impacted by disasters, including the state’s drought. Complete details are on the FSA Disaster Assistance website.

Click on the programs below for additional details, or visit the FSA Disaster Assistance Program Please note signups for livestock programs begin in April.

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• Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) provides compensation to eligible livestock producers who have suffered grazing losses due to drought or fire with retroactive authority to cover eligible losses back to Oct. 1, 2011. Sign-up will begin on or before April 15, 2014.

“These programs will provide long-awaited disaster relief for many livestock producers who have endured significant financial hardship from weather-related disasters while the programs were expired and awaiting Congressional action,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “President Obama and I prioritized the implementation of these disaster assistance programs now that the Farm Bill has restored and strengthened them.”

• Livestock Indemnity Payments (LIP) provides compensation to eligible livestock producers who have suffered livestock death losses in excess of normal mortality due to adverse weather and attacks by animals reintroduced into the wild by the federal government or protected by federal law, including wolves and avian predators with retroactive authority to cover eligible livestock losses back to Oct. 1, 2011. Sign-up will begin on or before April 15, 2014.

Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-Raised Fish (ELAP) provides emergency assistance to eligible producers of livestock, honeybees and farm- raised fish for losses not covered by LFP and LIP. Signups will be announced in near future.

Tree Assistance Program (TAP) provides financial assistance to qualifying orchardists and nursery tree growers to replant or rehabilitate eligible trees, bushes and vines damaged by natural disasters with retroactive authority to cover eligible losses back to Oct. 1, 2011. Signups will be announced in near future.

Farm Storage Facility Loan Program (FSFL) provides low-interest financing for producers to build or upgrade farm storage and handling facilities. The program was enhanced to include 23 new categories of eligible equipment for fruit and vegetable producers, and makes it easier for farmers and ranchers around the country to finance the equipment they need to grow and expand. The maximum loan amount is $500,000.

NRCS Conservation Drought Assistance to California Farmers & Ranchers

California has seen many droughts come and go, but 2014 is creating especially dire conditions for the State’s farmers and ranchers. You’ll find more information on the NRCS Drought Assistance website .

Drought Assistance from Rural Development

Rural Development has several programs that may help rural communities, businesses, ag producers, farm workers and others impacted by California’s ongoing drought. Opportunities include $3 million in Emergency Community Water Assistance Grants (ECWAG) to help rural communities whose water supply is at risk. Additional help is available for homeowners that need help drilling a well or connecting to a community water system, food banks that anticipate increased demand, ag producers wanting to offset ag irrigation costs, and others. For a list of available programs, and local contacts, visit Rural Development’s website.

Drought Assistance Open House for Farmers, Ranchers and Farmworkers

As California faces one of the driest years ever recorded, the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be holding an informational session on drought resources for farmers, ranchers and farmworkers in Cloverdale.

This session will provide information on a variety of state and federal government programs designed to assist farmers with water conservation, crop insurance, and other on-farm management tools. Information on farmworker assistance programs will also be available.

While deadlines for some federal assistance programs have already passed for the 2014 crop year, there are many programs still available to those involved in agriculture.

Cloverdale event information:

March 17, 2014 – 4:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. (Cloverdale/Sonoma County) – Cloverdale Citrus Fairgrounds 

Several state/federal government entities will be represented at this event, including: USDA Farm Service Agency; USDA Risk Management Agency; USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; USDA Rural Development; the California Employment Development Department; and other community resources.

CDFA continues to support California’s drought response. The department has developed a web page as an information clearinghouse on assistance programs for farmers, ranchers and farmworkers; will continue to work with California food banks to address drought-related impacts; and is working with the University of California to develop a real-time assessment of drought impacts in farming and ranching communities.

Additionally, CDFA continues to work as part of Governor Brown’s Drought Task Force to coordinate drought response efforts with other state agencies.

For more information concerning drought resources for California farmers, ranchers, and farmworkers, please visit – www.cdfa.ca.gov/drought