Ag News

FSA hosts meeting for producers harmed by hurricane

In response to widespread and devastating damage to crops and agricultural assets, the Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) Georgia office hosted a meeting with farmers on Oct. 22 at the UGA Tifton Campus Conference Center. Approximately 550 people attended.

Rep. Austin Scott (R-Georgia 8th District) spoke and listened to growers’ concerns, staying approximately an hour after the program was finished.

“I want you to know that I know you’re hurting,” Scott said. “We have been in conversations with our senators, our other elected officials. The one thing that I can tell you that I have a very real sense of urgency on is liquidity, and how we get the money, especially to our row crop producers, as fast as possible.”

Scott noted that the federal government has a disaster fund with a balance remaining, and he expects Congress will take the last disaster bill it passed, in 2017, and work to make similar legislation for 2018. Scott said that because of delays of some disaster payments from the 2017 bill, he is conveying to national leadership a sense of urgency for getting payments to farmers in the wake of the hurricane.

“Our losses were not as great in 2017 as they are now,” Scott said. “Our losses are so big now, that if our farmers don’t get a payment until October of 2019, they won’t be farming in October of 2019.”

The meeting featured speakers from USDA agencies, who detailed the resources available to farmers needing help to recover from Hurricane Michael. These included programs and farm loans from the FSA, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Rural Development, the Risk Management Agency (RMA) and the National Agricultural Statistic Service (NASS), as well as the Georgia Forestry Commission, Southwest Georgia Farm credit and the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health.

The federal agencies reviewed available programs, their eligibility requirements and applicable payment limits. The agency representatives emphasized the importance of documentation for farmers seeking to file claims under the various farm bill programs available. This included date/time-stamped photographs and the most thorough farm records they have available.

Given the scale and timing of the losses – the most-affected crops were either already being harvested or were about to be harvested – many farmers may be faced with restructuring their farm loans, whether it means refinancing, participating in a set-aside program similar to a payment deferment.

FSA Farm Loan Specialist Dean Lewis detailed the Emergency Loan program, which can be used to recover from physical or production losses from the storm and in some cases to refinance existing debts.

Lewis noted that the FSA emergency loans must be collateralized. Producers may borrow 100 percent of physical or production losses up to $500,000.

The NRCS’ Katura Wright detailed the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Emergency Watershed Program (EWP). EQIP funds, Wright said, are available to assist livestock owners in cases of animal mortality. This applies to a variety of species, but Wright specifically mentioned poultry because the storm destroyed numerous poultry houses in Southwest Georgia. EWP funds are available to cities and counties to use primarily for debris removal. Wright said the municipalities can apply on behalf of producers.