Wednesday, December 1, 2021

What Farmers Need To Know About Disaster Assistance

Editor’s note: As you enter the 2022 planning season, get familiar with these tips about what to do following a natural disaster to successfully seek aid from government programs.

cotton after a disaster
After a natural disaster occurs, it’s important to take time-stamped photographs of damage and losses before cleaning up.

Natural disasters can devastate farm families’ livelihoods, wreaking havoc on farm infrastructure, destroying crops and killing livestock. An Alabama Cooperative Extension System agronomist says the worst threats come from hurricanes and their aftereffects.

“The nature of their job means that farmers face inherent risks,” says Adam Rabinowitz, who is also an Auburn University assistant professor of agricultural economics. “There are ways to prepare and a number of government programs to aid recovery.”

Many of these programs are administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency.

Shnequie Bowman-Greene, Alabama FSA chief agricultural program specialist, was a guest on Episode 25 of the Alabama Crops Report podcast series (https://www.aces.edu/blog/series/alabama-crops-report/). She says when disaster affects agriculture, FSA’s role is to assess damage.

“After the disaster, we do loss assessments and then track those losses at a county level,” she says. “The major role of tracking is to guide disaster designation. If we have one or more crops with a 30% or greater loss, FSA forwards that information to the secretary of agriculture and requests a disaster designation.”

What To Do

Rabinowitz offered these suggestions for farmers confronting the aftermath of a disaster.

✔ Collect documentation. Before starting any cleanup activity, take time-stamped photographs of damage and losses that have occurred.

✔ Notify the local Farm Service Agency about losses. This helps FSA prepare a county loss assessment report, vital to a county being designated as an agricultural disaster area.

✔ Contact your crop insurance agent to report losses or damages. Do this before beginning cleanup activities to ensure proper documentation. Notify the agent within 72 hours of the discovery of a loss. Farmers should also provide a signed written notice of losses and damages to their agent within 15 days of the loss.

✔ Producers who have noninsured crop disaster assistance (NAP) or are eligible for other disaster assistance programs should contact the local FSA office. Do this before starting any cleanup activities to ensure everything is documented correctly and a waiver can be issued before cleanup.

Important Disaster Resources

“The USDA recovery website contains valuable resources, and farmers should review it in case of a natural disaster,” Rabinowitz says.

Go to www.farmers.gov/protection-recovery, scroll to discover disaster assistance programs and click start to access the disaster assistance recovery tool.

Sydney Griffin, an FSA agricultural program specialist who was also a guest on the crops podcast, says farmers should find the disaster assistance recovery tool useful.

“The tool will help farmers choose which type of programs that FSA has that might offer benefits after they have suffered these weather events,” Griffin says.

Rabinowitz has published a fact sheet (https://bit.ly/3kYazV5) to answer some questions that have been asked following a natural disaster. It also lists several disaster assistance programs that may aid those applying for assistance due to agricultural losses:

• Crop Insurance.

• Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.

• Tree Assistance Program.

• Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program.

• Livestock Forage Disaster Program.

• Emergency Conservation Program.

• Livestock Indemnity Program.

• Emergency Forest Restoration Program.

• Emergency Watershed Protection Program.

• Disaster Set-Aside Program.

• Emergency Loan Program.

Potential For More Help

Bowman-Greene says that additional programs often become available, particularly in natural disasters with widespread damage.

Rabinowitz and Bowman-Greene agree that gathering documentation and following FSA guidance are crucial to navigating the disaster assistance process successfully.

Auburn University provided this information.

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