Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne urged farmers Wednesday to take advantage of emergency relief funds to recover from environmental disasters.
The Iowa officials visited a farm of about 1,200 acres near Minburn, where Chris Nelson and his family raise cattle and grow row crops. The 2020 derecho flattened the farm’s cornfields and destroyed metal bins holding hay, Nelson said, as he spent the storm ensuring his cattle were safe.
“After the derecho hit, I’ll tell you what, this wasn’t the only story I heard,” Axne said. “I heard stories everywhere, and we’ve seen this going across Iowa, and we need to do something to fix it.”
Farms across Iowa – and much of the Midwest – faced billions of dollars of damage in August 2020, when the windstorm destroyed crops, silos and barns. But farms do not have to recover from those damages alone: They can take advantage of Emergency Relief Program funds to recoup financial losses, Vilsack and Axne said.
The program, signed into law in 2021, sets aside $10 billion to cover crop damage from the derecho and other natural disasters from the past two years. The Department of Agriculture began accepting applications for relief funding May 23, Vilsack said, and checks were already getting sent out by May 30.
Over 120,000 farmers have received more than $4 billion from the program so far, Vilsack said, and $270 million has gone to Iowa farmers. Vilsack joked that the reason he and Axne were in Minburn was to make sure the Nelson family also applied for disaster aid.
“They are a part of about 7,800 Iowa farmers who have yet to complete the application and get it into the (Farm Service Agency) office,” he said. “So there’s more assistance obviously forthcoming for the state of Iowa.”
Farmers have until July 22 to complete their emergency relief applications. The U.S. Department of Agriculture sent out pre-filled applications to farmers with crop insurance in May, Vilsack said. He encouraged farmers to fill out and return the forms, and to contact their local FSA for more information.
Vilsack also emphasized that this relief funding is just the start to addressing the rise of natural disasters nationwide. Climate change means American agricultural producers face new challenges, Vilsack said, and the government needs to prepare to help farmers.
“Climate’s having an impact,” Vilsack said. “And we’ve got to understand the flexibility and need to not only mitigate the consequences of it and be able to adapt to the consequences of it, but also to be able to respond to the disasters it’s going to create.”
In addition to rethinking national disaster programs, Vilsack said more disaster preparation measures should be taken up in the national farm bill. That means measures like funding research into “climate-smart” farm practices, and creating more resilient crops.
Sustainability is one of the biggest issues the farm bill needs to address, Axne said. The representative, who sits on the House Agriculture Committee, said climate and competition are two of the major issues the agriculture community has highlighted in talking about the future of American agriculture.
“We had a good farm bill last time, but we’ve got a lot we need to improve on, in particular when it comes to things like the weather issues,” Axne said.
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