Farmers and ranchers manage the risks and uncertainty of weather and production on a daily basis. While federal farm commodity programs and crop and livestock insurance products can be important tools to help manage the risk, they may be insufficient when major disasters strike. Widespread drought, storms, wildfires, and other disasters can result in devasting agricultural losses. A wide portfolio of federal disaster assistance programs can help producers recover from and manage through those losses.
In May, the UNL Center for Agricultural Profitability hosted a webinar featuring experts and programs from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to help producers manage through disasters, particularly the recent drought losses and wildfires across the Great Plains. A recording of the webinar is available online at https://go.unl.edu/cap-usda-drought-webinar. A discussion of the programs and details provides a good overview of the assistance available to producers.
Farm Service Agency Programs
The USDA Farm Service Agency has the responsibility for delivering a broad mix of disaster assistance programs, including those permanently authorized through farm bill legislation plus other long-standing programs and occasional ad hoc programs authorized by Congress or announced by the Secretary of Agriculture.
Permanent Disaster Assistance Programs
- Livestock Indemnity Program
- Livestock Forage Disaster Program
- Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-Raised Fish
- Tree Assistance Program
Other long-standing Disaster Assistance Programs and Provisions
- Emergency Conservation Program
- Emergency Forest Restoration Program
- Emergency Loan Program
- Disaster Set-Aside Program
- Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program
- Conservation Reserve Program Emergency Haying and Grazing
Ad Hoc Assistance Programs (current as of May 2022)
- Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program (2017 losses)
- Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program-Plus (2018-2019 losses)
- Emergency Livestock Relief Program (2021 losses)
- Emergency Relief Program (for crops) (2020-2021 losses)
FSA administers these disaster assistance programs and is continuously receiving applications as losses occur. Some programs may have annual deadlines as well as specific eligibility criteria. In addition, many of the programs rely on a disaster designation for the county or a contiguous county. Various programs also have specific payment limits and have standard payment factors for producers that may be higher for beginning, limited resource, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers and ranchers. Details on disaster designations is available on an FSA webpage along with a broad overview on a fact sheet. Further information on each program follows below.
Livestock Indemnity Program
The Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) covers death losses of livestock in excess of normal mortality due to adverse weather, attacks from wildlife reintroduced by the federal government or protected by federal law, or other qualifying disaster events.
Livestock owners need to submit a notice of loss and apply for assistance at the local FSA office within 30 calendar days of when the loss of livestock is first apparent. The notice of loss needs to come with documented evidence, such as photographs, records, and similar documents. Producers should be sure to document all death losses during the calendar year as all losses count toward normal mortality before qualifying losses in excess of normal mortality are covered.
LIP provides an indemnity equal to 75% of the average fair market value of the animals as of the day before death as determined by the Secretary of Agriculture.
Producers must meet eligibility criteria to qualify for payments, but there is no specific payments limit per person for LIP payments. A fact sheet from FSA provides more information and payment rate details.
Livestock Forage Disaster Program
The Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) provides assistance to livestock producers suffering grazing losses due to drought conditions or fire. Eligibility for benefits is triggered when the county is identified by the U.S. Drought Monitor as having severe drought conditions or worse for specific times during the grazing season.
If producers qualify for losses, FSA calculates a payment equal to 60% of the estimated monthly feed costs (50% in the case of fire on federal grazing land) for eligible livestock (including consideration for livestock liquidated due to drought conditions). The LFP assistance is equal to the monthly feed cost payments multiplied by one to five months based on the following measures for drought severity according to the U.S. Drought Monitor as certified for each county by FSA.
|Drought Severity in the County||LFP Assistance|
|D2 for 8 consecutive weeks||1 month|
|D3 at any time||3 months|
|D3 for 4 weeks or D4 at any time||4 months|
|D4 for 4 weeks||5 months|
For fire on federal grazing lands, the assistance is limited to the number of days the producer is prohibited from grazing due to the fire or 180 days, whichever is less.
Livestock producers who own or lease grazing land or pasture are eligible for assistance under LFP. To apply for assistance, producers need to document the inventory and physical location of the eligible livestock as well as the evidence of ownership or lease of grazing land or pasture covered by the program.
Producers must meet eligibility criteria to qualify for payments and are limited to no more than $125,000 per person per year in LFP payments. A fact sheet from FSA provides more information and payment rate details while a separate webpage provides current details on eligible counties and payment levels.
Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-Raised Fish
The Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-Raised Fish (ELAP) program provides relief to producers of livestock, honey bees and farm-raised fish due disaster losses from disease, adverse weather, or other conditions not adequately covered by other programs as determined by the Secretary of Agriculture.
The support could cover death losses, feed losses, or grazing losses not covered by other programs as well as other costs associated with caring for animals as a result of eligible drought or illness conditions, including costs of transporting water or feed to livestock or the cost of transporting livestock to feed. The additional assistance for transportation costs may be triggered under drought conditions where drought reaches D2 for eight consecutive weeks, where drought reaches D3 or greater, or where USDA determines there is a shortage of local or regional feed availability.
Producers must meet eligibility criteria to qualify for payments, but there is no specific payments limit per person for ELAP payments. A fact sheet from FSA provides more information.
Tree Assistance Program
The Tree Assistance Program (TAP) provides assistance to eligible orchardists and nursery tree growers. The assistance can help cover replanting or rehabilitation costs of trees, bushes, and vines lost to natural disasters. The standard payment rate covers 65% of the cost of replanting or 50% of the cost of rehabilitation in excess of 15% damage or mortality (adjusted for normal damage and mortality).
Producers must meet eligibility criteria to qualify for payments. There is no specific payments limit per person for TAP payments but payments cannot cover losses on more than 1000 acres per year. A fact sheet from FSA provides more information.
Emergency Conservation Program
The Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) helps farmers and ranchers repair farmland damaged by natural disasters and manage water during severe drought.
The program provides standard cost-share assistance of up to 75% for approved restoration practices covering land repair, fencing, and conservation structures as well as provision of emergency water during periods of severe drought.
Producers must meet land eligibility criteria to benefit from ECP. A fact sheet from FSA provides more information.
Emergency Forest Restoration Program
Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP) helps owners of non-industrial private forests with the restoring forest health damaged by natural disasters. The program provides standard cost-share assistance of up to 75% for approved restoration practices such as debris removal, replanting, and other approved practices.
Producers must eligibility criteria and are limited to $500,000 in EFRP payments per person per disaster event. A fact sheet from FSA provides more information.
Emergency Loan Program
The Emergency Loan (EM) program provides loans to help producers recover from production and physical losses due to qualifying disasters. Eligibility is limited to primary or contiguous disaster or quarantine counties. Producers must also meet eligibility requirements, including a 30% loss in crop production or physical loss to livestock, products, or property and can borrow up to 100% of the actual losses up to a maximum of $500,000. A fact sheet from FSA provides more information.
Disaster Set-Aside Program
The Disaster Set-Aside (DSA) program may provide help to FSA borrowers that are unable to make a scheduled FSA loan payment when they are in a disaster county or contiguous county. Eligibility is based on specific criteria including the financial hardship arising directly from the disaster. A set-aside is essentially a skipped payment, not a forgiven payment, as the set-aside must be repaid prior to final maturity. A fact sheet from FSA provides more information.
Conservation Reserve Program Emergency Haying and Grazing
Emergency haying and grazing of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres may be available to provide relief to livestock producers in areas affected by drought or other disasters. Counties suffering from severe drought or worse (D2 status on the drought monitor) as well as those with documented forage losses are eligible for emergency haying and grazing assistance subject to county approval.
There are also provisions for non-emergency haying and grazing as part of general CRP and Grassland CRP contracts, generally with reduced payment levels. Emergency haying and grazing differs in that it does not come with a CRP payment reduction. However, both emergency and non-emergency uses face limitations to protect CRP cover, erosion control, water quality, and wildlife habitat, including specific haying and grazing limits during the nesting season. More information on haying and grazing and CRP practices for both emergency and non-emergency use are available on a webpage and two fact sheets (provisions and practices)
Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program
The Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) provides protection from production losses for producers of non-insurable crops. Crops eligible for NAP include those for which a standard crop insurance policy is not available.
Unlike other disaster assistance programs, NAP works similar to crop insurance in that it requires advance sign-up by an application deadline that varies by crop. NAP provides catastrophic levels of coverage for a basic application fee or higher levels of coverage up to 65% of production at 100% of the average market price for an additional premium. Producer eligibility requirements and payment limits apply. A fact sheet from FSA provides more information.
Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program
The Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program (WHIP) covered 2017 producer losses due to hurricanes and wildfires. While the counties impacted by hurricanes were limited to the southeastern United States, the wildfire assistance was distributed broadly based on individual loss considerations. WHIP-Plus (WHIP+) covered an expanded set of losses from the 2018-2019 production years including crop losses and some property losses (such as stored grain) due to flooding and other perils. While WHIP and WHIP+ assistance was available regardless of whether crop insurance had been purchased, the programs offered higher levels of assistance for higher levels of crop insurance or NAP coverage. While the programs are now closed, the information on how they worked is relevant to potential future assistance and is on an FSA webpage or an archived farmers.gov webpage.
Emergency Livestock Relief Program
The Emergency Livestock Relief Program (ELRP) was created in 2022 to provide additional livestock disaster assistance. Phase 1 of the program directed additional assistance to recipients of 2021 LFP payments to supplement the payments already received, given that producers faced higher feed costs. ELRP payments were calculated at 75% of the recipient’s gross 2021 LFP calculated payment and come with their own specific payment eligibility rules and limits.
As of late May, producers are awaiting any announcement of Phase 2 of the program for additional assistance. FSA has announced it is evaluating and identifying impacts of the 2021 drought and wildfire losses to address equity and distribution issues and ensure producers receive needed benefits. More information on both phases of ELRP is available on the FSA webpage for emergency relief.
Emergency Relief Program
The Emergency Relief Program (ERP) for crops was created to address a wide range of disaster losses in 2020 and 2021. The range of qualifying disasters includes wildfires, hurricanes, floods, derechos, excessive heat, winter storms, freeze (including a polar vortex), smoke exposure, excessive moisture, qualifying drought, and related conditions.
Phase 1 of ERP assistance will be targeted to crops covered by crop insurance or NAP and works similar to WHIP and WHIP+ with a schedule of assistance rates that is higher for those that purchased higher levels of crop insurance or NAP coverage. Using available crop insurance data for each producer, the ERP will recalculate a protection level that starts at 75% for those with catastrophic levels of coverage and grows to 95% for those with at least 80% buy-up coverage levels. From this protection level, actual losses are calculated similar to how crop insurance claims are settled and are then adjusted for any net crop insurance indemnities or NAP payments received.
Producers in line to receive ERP payments are subject to eligibility rules and ERP payment limits as well as future crop insurance or NAP purchase requirements. Like ELRP, Phase 2 of ERP has not been announced from FSA as of late May, but is expected to address gaps in assistance and reach more producers not covered by Phase 1. More information on both phases of ERP is available on the FSA webpage for emergency relief or in a fact sheet.
Natural Resources Conservation Service Programs
The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has the responsibility for delivering a broad mix of conservation incentive and stewardship programs. Some of those programs may provide emergency assistance, but the primary focus is on programs that can help producers adopt and maintain conservation practices. These practices may help producers mitigate or even prevent some drought and other disaster losses by protecting resources or improving resilience.
The NRCS provides important functions related to disaster assistance and provides some targeted assistance as needed. NRCS helps with assessment of disaster conditions such as documentation of production losses and also helps provide program and technical assistance for producers. There are also some specific programs and provisions that provide disaster relief or management incentives.
- Emergency Watershed Protection Program
- Conservation Stewardship Program
- Environmental Quality Incentives Program
- Agricultural Conservation Easement Program
Emergency Watershed Protection Program
The Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP) can provide financial and technical assistance to local sponsoring agencies to help repair damaged streams, drainage facilities, conservation practices, etc. With losses from floods, fires, windstorms, or other natural disasters, EWP may help participants repair damage to the land, including establishing vegetative cover on drought- or fire-damaged land. NRCS can provide up to 75% cost-share for eligible recovery projects with local sponsors providing 25% cash or in-kind assistance.
Conservation Stewardship Program
The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) provides incentive and stewardship payments to producers to adopt and maintain a wide range of conservation practices targeted to resource needs and plans on the farm or ranch. Various CSP practices may help producers better manage their resources and improve their resilience against future disasters. More information from NRCS is available on the program webpage.
Environmental Quality Incentives Program
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides cost-share and incentive payments to producers for the adoption and maintenance of conservation practices. While various EQIP practices may help producers better manage their resources and improve their resilience against future disasters, EQIP also includes some disaster assistance practices that can help producers coping with drought or recovering from fire.
Emergency practices that can help with wildfire recovery include prescribed grazing and cover crops. EQIP practices that can help producers manage drought include deferred grazing, livestock watering structures (ponds, wells, facilities, or pipelines), prescribed grazing and fencing, conservation tillage and crop rotation, increased-efficiency irrigation practices and equipment, irrigated to dryland conversion, soil health practices, and grazed cover crops. More information from NRCS is available on the program webpage.
Agricultural Conservation Easement Program
The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) provides incentives to producers to protect agricultural land or wetlands through permanent or long-term easements. Easements may provide a viable approach to protecting agricultural land or wetlands vulnerable to disaster events such as flooding. During drought conditions, ACEP wetlands easement areas may also provide emergency haying or grazing where the activity is compatible with the conservation of wildlife habitat and wetlands protection. More information from NRCS is available on the program webpage.
While good practices and assistance programs cannot prevent agricultural disasters from occurring, they may help producers manage through the challenges and prevent catastrophic losses or provide relief from the losses that have occurred. USDA is responsible for delivering a wide range of programs that can help producers both manage for and recover from disasters. Standing disaster assistance programs from FSA along with recently-announced ad hoc programs will provide substantial financial assistance for recent losses. NRCS programs can also provide some emergency relief but are best positioned to help producers prepare for the future with conservation practices that improve their operation and build their resiliency against future weather and disaster challenges.
Bradley D. Lubben
Extension Associate Professor, Policy Specialist, and
Director, North Central Extension Risk Management Education Center
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Managing Through Drought with USDA Conservation and Assistance Programs
This May 12 webinar with USDA FSA and NRCS discussed programs available to help producers cope with loss and prepare for drought.Watch