The Intertribal Agriculture Council wants to ensure maximum participation in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) programming. The USDA was established to support those that are working tirelessly everyday to care for the land, grow food and fiber, and feed the world. There are several agencies within the USDA to deliver specific and supportive programming to agricultural producers; Farm Service Agency, Natural Resource Conservation Service, and Rural Development are some of the more prominent agencies we are familiar in the Great Plains. Many of the programs delivered by these agencies are designed to mitigate the adverse impacts of abnormal production years, disastrous weather events, market collapse, and more.
As a producer, it is critical to understand the programs available through each agency. As agencies funded by taxpayer dollars, it is expected these programs are meeting the producer’s needs and are delivered in a fair and equitable way. As an organization committed to promoting Indian Agriculture, the Intertribal Agriculture Council’s duty is to help both producers and agencies fulfill their role in this relationship.
ACCESSING USDA PROGRAMS IS YOUR RIGHT AS AN OPERATOR Every 5 years, the United States Congress passes Agriculture policy which includes many programs designed to assist ranchers, farmers, and rural America.
The USDA is charged with carrying out this policy. To promote effective delivery of USDA programs, USDA Service Centers, often known as “County Offices,” have been established across the country. Oftentimes producers are hesitant to seek assistance when it comes to their operation, but it is important to understand that the sole reason these offices exist is to make sure that the Farm Bill authorized programs are delivered to the producers.
Each USDA Service Center has a County Executive Director to oversee the delivery of programs within their service area. Additionally, each office has a County Committee, which is comprised of elected volunteers from within the service area. The County Committee has the opportunity to support the County Executive Director in many ways: requesting the activation of special disaster assistance programs, recommending outreach methods to ensure producers are aware of programs available, determining approval or disapproval of program applications, and advocating on behalf of the producers they represent.
The IAC recognizes that this can create apparent inconsistency in delivery of USDA programming, and we’re working to improve the relationship; helping USDA to identify areas in which they can continue to improve their service to Indian Country, and helping Indian operators to recognize their rights and responsibilities in accessing programs.
YOUR COMMUNICATION IS ESSENTIAL IN ACTIVATING DISASTER PROGRAMS USDA Service Centers rely heavily on producer input when understanding the production environment of each season. With many USDA Service Centers now covering larger areas and multiple counties, it is important that producers make the County Executive Directors aware of what they’re experiencing on their operation. It is the responsibility of USDA County Offices to track this input and ensure the office staff is made aware of what the producers may be seeking assistance on.
The perfect example of this critical communication is the recent reporting of livestock lost due to the extreme weather events of the past winter and spring. The more producers communicate with their USDA Service Center, the better they can be prepared to serve the county.
The three steps to accessing programming: Notify, Record, Report!
A producer must first notify their USDA Service Center of their desire to claim abnormal production. Notification should take place within thirty days of when the abnormal production became apparent to the producer. When a producer notifies their USDA Service Center of their abnormal production, they must indicate the program they are wanting to apply for. If a producer is unsure of what programs are available, they can inquire with their USDA Service Center staff, or call the IAC office for guidance.
A producer needs to record their abnormal production. We recommend written journals, record-keeping books, production records, photos, and signed verification from neighbors, vets or consultants, wherever abnormal production takes place. A producer should ask their USDA Service Center what forms of verification will be accepted for reporting abnormal production. This often seems to be a program-by-program and county-by-county determination.
Following notification of abnormal production, USDA Service Centers will determine sign-up periods. During this time, producers will be able to report their abnormal production. Completed reports result in completed applications which will be reviewed and approved by the USDA Service Center Staff and County Committee. If a producer’s report/application is not approved, the producer will receive an “Adverse Determination” letter. The producer has 30 days to appeal this determination and provide any necessary additional information, in an attempt to get their application approved.
When it doubt: YOU SHOULD NOTIFY!
A notification of abnormal production does not have to be accompanied by evidence, verifiable proof, or an application. Each of these items can be provided to your USDA office following your notification. In notifying the USDA office, producers can seek their guidance in how to properly report and quantify your losses.
How should you notify USDA of your abnormal production?
USDA offices rely on producers to “notify” them of any abnormal production (examples of abnormal production listed above). As soon as abnormal production is witnessed, producers should contact their USDA office (by phone, e-mail, or personal visit) to inquire about what programs may be available to mitigate the losses.
When notifying of losses, it is important to remember to state which program you’re notifying losses towards, and request the appropriate steps to filing an application. As with any official correspondence, we recommend producers maintain their own written record of communication with FSA. For this reason, an emailed notification of loss to your USDA office may be of value to you.
What happens after notification?
Continue to record the abnormal production trends that are realized. The notifications that are made to your USDA office can be used to inform activation of programs. Maintain communication with your USDA office so you’re aware of announced sign-up periods for the specific programs that do get activated.
What should be reported?
We recommend that producers report all production losses as they happen, to their local FSA office. This is the first step in effective use of the programs designed to support producers.
Examples of items* to report are:
The death of animals intended for commercial production
Any injury to animals intended for commercial production, which will lower its marketable value
Any excessive disease or animal health concerns witnessed in the production herd
Any loss of stored grains, crops, or forage production
A loss of crops that were intended for harvest (as a result of both growing season condition and/or weather event)
A decrease in pasture/rangeland productivity (as a result of both growing season condition and/or weather event)
Any damage to a crop or forage production that will lower its marketable value
Any excessive operating expenses (feed or fuel bills, etc.) due to harsh seasonal conditions, poor growing season conditions, or disastrous weather events
Any abnormal damage witnessed to infrastructure or conservation implementations, as a result of weather events (such as damage to fence lines, shelterbelts, roads, dams, holding tanks, etc.)
Any excessive damage along a watershed, drainage system, stream bank, etc. including any excessive debris and sediment accumulation
Any amount of debris that will need to be removed due to flooding
Any excessive labor or contracted hire pursued as a result of the items listed above
This list is intended to offer producers recommendations of items that can be reported to USDA offices, to enhance USDA’s understanding of what producers are facing. We encourage producers to report any vital production increases and decreases as much (and as often) as possible. Producer engagement at USDA Service Centers help shape national agricultural policy, enhance service to their area, and drive the development of improved program delivery.
PROGRAMS PRODUCERS SHOULD LOOK INTO NOW
With a tough start to the 2019 growing season, many producers are facing tough operating conditions. Many USDA Service Centers are currently accepting applications for specific Disaster Assistance Programs. Contact us or your local USDA Service Center for assistance in applying for the following programs:
Livestock Indemnity Payment (LIP) offers payments to producers for any excessive death loss beyond the normal expected mortality rates. Death losses must be connected to a qualifying weather events and your county office must be notified that you’ll claim a loss no later than 30 days after you’ve discovered the first evidence of a loss.
Emergency Livestock Assistance Program (ELAP) provides financial assistance for losses and extra costs that are not already covered by other disaster programs. Examples would include the cost to purchase & haul feed due to extreme cold, to haul water during a drought, elevated costs to treat disease, etc.
Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) is made available to repair damage from weather events. Repairs help to mitigate further damage to natural resources. Examples include: excessive fence line repair, debris and sediment removal (due to flooding), dam repair, etc. It is exceptionally critical that producers report their needs to their USDA office with this program, so the County Committee can be made aware of the producer’s need for activated ECP programming.
Disaster Set-Aside (DSA) allows FSA borrowers to delay their annual loan payment in the instances where their annual production was devastated by adverse weather event(s). Borrowers delay a portion or all of their current year’s loan payment to reduce stress on the operational cash flow. Producers will realize an increased payment in the final year of their loan with FSA.
Emergency Watershed Program offers support similar to that of ECP, but focuses on a larger-scale, watershed-level repair. This program is available through the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Farm Aid has also made themselves available as an ally to Indian producers, and aims to make their support fit the specific need of disastrous climates of Indian Country. Contact the IAC or visit www.farmaid.org to seek their support.
OTHER PROGRAMS Productive management requires a thoughtful utilization of available USDA programing on a year-round basis. Many agencies have programs that are currently accepting applications which would reap mid to long term benefits for your operation, while helping you to prepare for future disasters:
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (offered through NRCS) incentivizes the construction of temporary and long-term infrastructure, which improves the quality of available natural resources.
EQIP is a one to five year agreement between producers and NRCS to engage in conservation planning and develop conservation practices like dams, pipelines, wells, fences, and more.
EQIP provides up to 90% of the cost to install conservation practices on Tribal or individual land.
Producers can request up to 50% of the cost of the practice up front to defray out of pocket expense. Specific rates for each conservation activity are available upon request from the IAC or your local NRCS office.
The 2019 Application Deadline is anticipated to be this fall. EQIP requires a little more planning prior to the application being considered complete, so it’s smart to initiate conversation with your NRCS office sooner, rather than later!
Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) delivered by the NRCS supports the thoughtful stewardship of natural resources.
Producers apply to enter into a multi-year agreement with NRCS to integrate specific conservation practices in their management (examples include rotational grazing, monitoring forage utilization, etc).
Each producer is eligible for up to $40,000 per year to assist in implementing these practices (total amount per producer is determined by the number of practices they are willing to implement and the total acres of land upon which they will be practiced).
Producers must provide evidence of land base control (written lease, deed of land, etc.) and they must have been in control of the land for at least one year.
The 2019 Application Deadline for this program was MAY 10, 2019. However, you can start your application for the 2020 sign up period at anytime.
Attention Great Plains Region:North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska:
For production recording, evidence of loss templates, conservation planning assistance or any other technical assistance you might need; please visit IndianAg.Org/NaturalResources or call our office (605-964-8320). Or, better yet, stop in and have a cup of coffee and visit at our new office location: 408 South Main Street, Eagle Butte, SD 57625.