HAMILTON – Monroe County has 325 farmers utilizing 145,000 acres of land, which includes forestland. With the increasing frequency of volatile weather and droughts, producers will most likely experience some sort of agricultural loss in their careers.
Federal disaster assistance programs through the U.S. Department of Agriculture are there to help in such times of need for commercial operations, which sometimes may only require filling out one or two forms. Monroe County Farm Service Agency (FSA) is available to assist people in such a crisis.
Danny Holloway, who owns Holloway Farms in Hamilton, witnessed the first major disaster in his 46 years of farming after April 13’s EF-2 tornado caused more than $600,000 in damages between his home, outbuildings and farm equipment. He said the tornado actually formed in a field behind his farm.
“You think you have enough insurance but you don’t. People don’t think about outside structures,” he said. “I’ve gone through droughts and had cotton that has been affected by a hail storm. That’s not that minor, but it is minor compared to this.”
Monroe County FSA Executive Director Penny Fair said the county is awaiting word from the USDA about approval for an assistance program related to April’s severe weather outbreak.
“It would be a super help, especially putting our buildings back up to put our equipment in. Equipment goes down fast if it’s left in the weather. I’ve got someone to put a building up this fall, but that’s $100,000 I’ve got to come up with,” said Holloway, who was recently re-elected to his third term on the county FSA’s board.
Holloway Farms specializes in growing cotton, corn, soybeans and peanuts. Although the tornado, itself, hasn’t effected this year’s crop quality, it has effected the time Holloway has had to work on it.
“The buildings are one thing, but the time cleaning up, getting windows fixed on combines and pickers and finding the time to plant your crop puts a big burden on you,” he said. “The main thing it’s done is taken so much of our time. Getting things back in order and planting, it takes all of your time up.”
Asking for help
In the aftermath of a weather-related disaster, the process of requesting disaster assistance entails an emergency board meeting with local FSA, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Extension service representatives to discuss the event to see if there’s a need to request emergency funds.
Review of a map of the damaged area is part of the process.
After the message is conveyed, commercial farmers present their lists of needs, and representatives of the Monroe County office project how much funding is needed before sending the request to the state office in Jackson. From there, it is sent to Washington D.C. to await approval. If funding is made available through the USDA, there’s a 30-day sign-up period.
“I’m not saying we can help everyone, but you don’t know unless you try,” Fair said of the need for producers to ask for needs. “Once we get approved, the money is guaranteed but not until they sign up. The biggest thing people need to do is come by and tell us what their problem is, and we can see where to go from there.”
She said many farmers don’t take advantage of the disaster assistance program. The most common disaster assistance programs made available for Monroe County have been the Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP), the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) and the Emergency Assistance for Livestock Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP).
According to a fact sheet about the programs, the EFRP provides payments to eligible landowners of rural non-industrial private forest land to carry out emergency measures to restore forest health on land damaged by natural disasters. It applies to fire, hurricanes, flooding, blizzards, tornadoes, excessive winds, drought, hail and earthquakes.
The ECP provides funding to rehab farmland damaged by wind, erosion, floods, hurricanes, among other natural disasters, and for carrying out emergency water conservation measures during times of severe droughts.
The ELAP provides payments to eligible producers of livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish to help compensate for loss due to diseases and adverse weather conditions.
There are several other programs such as the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, Livestock Indemnity Program, Emergency Loan Program, Livestock Forage Disaster Program and Tree Assistance Program.
“A lot of people are looking for something for free. I don’t mind a low-interest loan, but a lot of people don’t want to fool with it,” Holloway said.
With the ECP, for example, funding is meant to restore something of urgency needed for farm operations.
“To figure out the ECP request, we survey the damage. They’ll show us where they are on the map and may say, ‘I had 1,500 feet of fencing that needs to be replaced,’ and we’ll survey everyone’s damage,” Fair said. “We’re getting the minimum amount just so we could get it back up.”
In cases such as fencing needing to be put back up to keep livestock in pastures, farmers may elect to go ahead and do the repairs themselves. If funding is awarded and they fill out a survey, they can turn in paperwork indicating the number of hours spent on the repairs, costs incurred and equipment used for reimbursements.
With programs such as EFRP, the government offers cost-share payments of as much as 75 percent.
Fair said those who receive funds will still pay taxes on them and everyone awarded funds is given a 1099 form.
Fair recommends people with further questions and with forestland and farmland to update owner records with the county’s FSA office, located at 517 Hwy. 145 N in Aberdeen. The office can be reached at 369-0044 ext. 2. For more information, check out www.fsa.usda.gov.