flooded farmland
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By Melissa A. Nagel, Feature Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) hosted a webinar on April 11th, 2023, to address concerns and available resources for local farmers in response to recent natural disasters across the state. Most of the programs discussed during the webinar are also available to those living in California’s rural communities with populations of 10,000 or fewer. 

California has experienced 12 different atmospheric rivers since December, bringing more than 4 inches of rain to Bakersfield alone. Other areas of California have experienced even more rainfall and, worse, been subjected to record snowfall, which is now beginning to melt, paving the way for more flooding and uncovering damage to properties previously hidden under the snow. This uncharacteristic weather brought much-needed rain to California farmers facing drought and water shortages just one year ago. However, damage to property and the cost of necessary repairs have placed undue hardships on many farmers’ shoulders. 

In response, the USDA and CDFA have come together to educate those needing California’s more than 70 available disaster relief programs. Gloria Montano Greene, the USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation, moderated the webinar. Speaking first was USDA Rural Development State Director Maria Gallegos Herrera, who touched upon many programs aimed at helping farmers and rural community members get back on their feet after a natural disaster. 

For instance, the Section 504 Grant Program helps low-income homeowners over the age of 62 make necessary home repairs with grants of up to $10,000. The program also offers loans up to $40,000 for those in need. The Section 502 Direct Home Loan Programs also help low-income rural homeowners purchase new homes or build homes after a natural disaster. This program requires FEMA registration, and the disaster must be federally declared. 

Water assistance grants are also offered to ensure safe and reliable drinking water is available to those affected by natural disasters. Unlike the previously mentioned grants, federal disaster declaration is not needed to obtain water assistance grants, which can provide up to $1 million for new water sources and $150,000 for water distribution repairs. In addition, the program funds may also be used for sewer and solid waste system repairs. 

One of the most valuable programs offered for Kern ag is the Value-Added Producer Grant Program, which provides funding for planning, product packaging and labeling, ingredients, and promotional materials for farmers suffering monetary setbacks due to natural disasters. For more information on the programs mentioned above or to apply, please visit www.rd.usda.gov/ca

Representatives from the Farm Service Agency (FSA) were also present for the webinar. They spoke on the disaster assistance programs that their more than 30 offices cover in California. The FSA provides severe storm and flood assistance through its Emergency Conservation Program (ECP). This cost-share program offers funding to rehabilitate farmland and other conservation structures damaged by natural disasters. Fence repair/replacement, debris removal, irrigation systems repairs, and more are all included under the ECP, which offers up to $500,000 per individual. The program has no Adjusted Gross Income requirements, and the application deadline is October 13th, 2023. 

The FSA also offers emergency loans to those who have suffered a minimum 30% loss in revenue and cannot obtain a commercial loan. The deadline to apply for these loans is within eight months of the natural disaster occurrence. There is also a Tree Assistance Program (TAP) for those who have suffered a loss over 18% of normal mortality rates. Applications for this program must be filed within 90 days, are limited to 1,000 acres, and AGI can be at most $900,000 annually. The FSA also offers Severe Storm and Flood Assistance, Non-insured Crop Disaster Assistance, and a Livestock Indemnity Program. For more information on these and other programs, please visit www.fsa.usda.gov/state-offices/California/index

Lastly, Carlos Suarez, California NRCS State Conservationist, spoke on programs the National Resources Conservation Service provides for rural communities affected by natural disasters. The Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP) provides assistance through public sponsors for relief from imminent hazards to life and property caused by flooding and soil erosion, fires, drought, and hurricanes. The program cannot be used for pre-existing issues or upgrades, only to repair damage caused by recent disasters. For more information on programs offered by the NRCS, please visit www.ca.nrcs.usda.gov. 

For more in-depth info, the video is here on the USDA’s YouTube Channel

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