Letter to the editor: Meade County FSA would love to help
I recently read an article describing the livestock losses suffered by ranchers in the area. The article noted that with the recent government shutdown, producers were unable to speak with federal officials about compensation available for their losses. I cannot speak for FEMA or the state agricultural department, however, as the County Executive Director for the Farm Service Agency in Meade County, I can inform ranchers who suffered livestock losses about what is available from the United States Department of Agriculture… nothing is currently available.
The employees of the Farm Service Agency would be grateful to assist producers that lost livestock during this recent blizzard, but are currently forced out of our offices due to this government shutdown. However, even if the government was not currently closed, my answer to any producer that would contact me regarding livestock losses would be the same. There is nothing we can do at this time except to thoroughly document your livestock losses.
The 2008 Farm Bill did provide a program to assist producers dealing with this exact situation. The program was called the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP). The program provided monetary assistance to livestock producers that lost their livestock due to adverse weather conditions. Producers had to provide documentation to the FSA County Committee detailing their livestock losses. At a minimum, producers needed to provide verifiable records to prove the number and type of livestock owned along with verifiable documentation of the livestock losses. If verifiable livestock death records were unavailable, producers could provide reliable records (dated photographs, personal livestock records, third party verifications) along with verifiable records of the number and type of livestock remaining after the adverse weather event. If the producer could provide such documentation to the FSA County Committee, the producer would be reimbursed, at a rate established at a national level, for their livestock losses.
The livestock programs authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill were only authorized through September 30, 2011. Even with the one year extension of the Farm Bill on December 31, 2012, the livestock programs were not reauthorized. That is why the Farm Service Agency does not currently have any programs available to assist producers that suffered significant livestock losses due to the blizzard.
We should not give up all hope that assistance will be available. In the past Congress has approved ad hoc disaster bills that have provided assistance to producers after the fact. This could very well be what happens. The Livestock Programs that were authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill have appeared in both versions of the new farm bill with little to no dispute. However, without a current farm bill, no disaster programs are currently available to offer any assistance through the Farm Service Agency. Therefore, keep records documenting your livestock losses until legislation is passed that provides for some assistance. When that happens, the Farm Service Agency will be providing information on how to apply for compensation.
James R. Neill
County Executive Director
Meade County Farm Service Agency