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Arkansas delegation asks for urgent action on flood damage

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Members of the Arkansas congressional delegation sent a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue requesting immediate assistance in providing relief to Arkansas farmers affected by recent flooding in the state. They also requested flexibility in the enforcement of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “ability to replant” provisions.

Rep. Rick Crawford (R., Ark.) said, “Much of the damage to many of our rural communities and farms is worse than anything I’ve seen since I was in office. During his visit to Arkansas, Secretary Perdue was able to see firsthand the devastation flooding has caused hundreds of producers in eastern Arkansas. I am urging him to take immediate action in order to mitigate losses and damage and also to remain flexible during these hard times.”

With 89% of the rice crop already planted, significant input costs already have been expended for the current crop year. Unfortunately, new “ability to replant” regulations promulgated by the Risk Management Agency (RMA) actually compound the problem because they require farmers to replant rice through the final day of the late planting period – which is June 10, or 15 days after the final plant date. Unfortunately, this date is “unrealistic because replanting until the middle of June essentially guarantees steep yield losses that will result in excess financial hardship for most growers,” Crawford said in a statement.

According to initial estimates from the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, the estimated impact of rain and floods on Arkansas cropland on May 1-5, 2017, was $64.5 million. Per crop, rice losses are estimated at $29.96 million, soybeans at $14.27 million, corn at $11.68 million and cotton at $2.21 million; the surviving acreage will likely have $6.41 million in increased management costs due to rain and flooding.

The data do not account for lost and damaged acreage farther south along the White River and southern Cache River. Also, keep in mind that the estimates may not account for certain input costs, such as levee repair work in rice. Furthermore, any replanting situations will face different insect, disease, moisture and weed pressures since those crops will mature at a later date, further affecting input costs and potential yields.

On Monday, Perdue reminded farmers and ranchers, families and small businesses that were affected by the recent severe storms and flooding that USDA has several programs that provide assistance before, during and after disasters. USDA staff in the regional, state and county offices in the states of Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas are ready to help.

“We want you to know that USDA resources are at your disposal,” Perdue said. “USDA has people on the ground in every county who can help you. We will do everything we can to help farmers get those fields back in order and encourage them to take advantage of these USDA resources.”

The Arkansas congressional letter requested expeditious action in making a disaster declaration for individual counties affected by the flooding so producers can quickly access emergency loans and individual assistance USDA can make available to them.

The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) administers many safety net programs to help producers recover from eligible losses, including the Livestock Indemnity Program, the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees & Farm-Raised Fish Program, Emergency Forest Restoration Program and Tree Assistance Program. The FSA Emergency Conservation Program provides funding and technical assistance for farmers and ranchers to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters.

Producers located in counties that received a primary or contiguous disaster designation are eligible for low-interest emergency loans to help them recover from production and physical losses. Compensation also is available to producers who purchased coverage through the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, which protects non-insurable crops against natural disasters that result in lower yields, crop losses or prevented planting. USDA encourages farmers and ranchers to contact their local FSA office to learn what documents can help the local office expedite assistance, such as farm records, receipts and pictures of damages or losses.

Producers should use form FSA-576, Notice of Loss, to report prevented planting and failed acres in order to establish or retain FSA program eligibility. Prevented planting acreage must be reported no later than 15 calendar days after the final planting date established by FSA and RMA. Producers must file a Notice of Loss for failed acres on all crops, including grasses, in a timely fashion — often within 15 days of the occurrence or when the losses become apparent. Producers of hand-harvested crops must notify FSA of damage or loss within 72 hours of when the date of damage or loss first becomes apparent.

Producers with coverage through the RMA-administered federal crop insurance program should contact their crop insurance agent. Those who purchased crop insurance will be paid for covered losses. Producers should report crop damage within 72 hours of damage discovery and follow up in writing within 15 days.

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