Farmers and ranchers who suffered losses due to natural disasters ranging from drought to hurricanes last year will receive $3.7 billion in aid in coming months, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The USDA also announced $500 million in additional funding for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program and $103 million to defray marketing costs for organic dairy farmers this year.
Through a streamlined process, the USDA said it intended to send pre-filled applications directly to eligible producers in early summer. There will be a separate application process for producers who did not utilize USDA risk management tools such as crop insurance last year. The USDA said it announced the assistance in advance so that producers could gather documents that may be needed to apply.
“U.S. agricultural producers nationwide endured crippling natural disaster events in 2022 including a megadrought, Hurricane Ian, epic flooding and catastrophic wildfires,” said Vilsack on Friday. “To say these events were costly is an understatement.”
The $3.7 billion in assistance, approved by Congress last December, is “significantly less than the estimated losses,” said Vilsack, so the USDA will design payment factors to ensure fair and equitable payments to as many producers as possible. Lawmakers targeted $500 million of the money to livestock producers affected by drought or wildfires.
Additional information about the Emergency Relief Program for crop producers and the Emergency Livestock Relief Program for livestock producers will be available in coming months, said the USDA.
The USDA said the $500 million in additional funding for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program was drawn through last year’s climate, health and tax law, which earmarked nearly $20 billion for land stewardship with an emphasis on climate mitigation. The money will be available for this fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30, with applications accepted through Aug. 18. The RCPP uses public-private partnerships to tackle conservation work on multiple pieces of property.
“This funding supports the efforts of small businesses, local governments, farmers and ranchers, and conservation leaders to build local partnerships to improve water quality and create new habitats for hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation,” said Senate Agriculture chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, who was the author of RCPP in the 2014 farm bill.
Under the new Organic Dairy Marketing Assistance Program, the USDA said $104 million was available to assist producers with marketing costs this year, following high costs for scarce feed supplies and high fuel costs in 2022. The USDA said it would begin accepting applications for aid on Wednesday.
“Without assistance, many organic dairies, particularly small organic dairies, will cease production, which not only impacts the domestic supply and consumption of organic milk but also the well-being of many rural communities across the country,” said Zach Ducheneaux, administrator of the Farm Service Agency.
The Organic Trade Association said a maximum of $30 million would be released under the terms announced by the USDA. It urged the department to work with the organic industry “to release more funds in a timely manner to ensure that the full allocated amounts reach those dairy farmers in need.”