Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has announced a package of program improvements to deliver faster and more flexible disaster assistance to farmers and ranchers. Vilsack said a final rule that simplifies the process for Secretarial disaster designations will result in a 40-percent reduction in processing time for most counties affected by disasters. A reduced interest rate for emergency loans effectively lowers the current rate from 3.75-percent to 2.25-percent. Finally – Vilsack said the annual rental payment on Conservation Reserve Program lands qualified for emergency haying and grazing will be reduced from 25-percent to 10-percent in 2012 as a result of the seriousness of the drought. Vilsack noted that Agriculture remains a bright spot in the nation’s economy. He said it’s increasingly important that USDA has the tools to act quickly and deliver assistance when farmers and ranchers need it most. He says the improvements announced Wednesday tell American producers that USDA stands with them and their communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt their livelihood.
The amended final rule for Secretarial disaster designations nearly automatically qualifies a disaster county once it is categorized by the U.S. Drought Monitor as a severe drought for eight consecutive weeks during the growing season; streamlines the designation process; and removes the requirement that a request be initiated by a state governor or Indian tribal council. The criteria currently used for triggering a disaster designation will still apply.