USDA steps in to assuage impact of drought on CA farmers

150 150 Melissa Gonzalo

(photo credit: Jorg Nittmann)

Rain has finally fallen on our golden state, but it’s not enough to alleviate the effects of one of the worst droughts on record. As KXTV’s Meteorologist Rob Carlmark writes in his blog, “It stops the bleeding, but it doesn’t repair the damage.” California’s drought has taken a particular toll on growers and ranchers who rely on nature’s precious resource for the sustainability of their crops and herds. Ranchers have been forced to sell off some of their cattle as pastures brown. 101 Livestock Market’s auction house co-owner Monty Avery says the market usually sees 100-150 animals per week, but this year they are selling 800-1,000 each week. Cutbacks in irrigation water are expected to force farmers to put 500,000 acres of cropland on standby this year, which industry officials estimate could cause billions of dollars in economic damage. That’s why the USDA has stepped in to help, offering $20 million worth of aid to increase water conservation efforts through its Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) .

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says it’s one of the first in more to come. “We are doing everything within our power to support those farmers and ranchers affected by this intense drought,” Vilsack said in a media briefing Tuesday. “These funds will help get a suite of scientifically proven conservation techniques on the ground.” Some of those techniques include more efficient irrigation systems, grazing land protection, and promoting cover crops to preserve soil fertility. This funding is made available through the NRCS’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), aimed at helping farmers facing environmental threats. It’s also part of broader Obama Administration efforts to help those affected by the drought. Through the National Drought Resilience Partnership, launched as part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, federal agencies are working closely with state, local government, agriculture and other partners on a coordinated response.

“In recent days many farmers and ranchers have visited one of our 55 California offices seeking help from the drought,” said Carlos Suarez, California State Conservationist for NRCS. “Unfortunately, we don’t have a magic wand, but we do have a toolbox of scientifically vetted conservation practices that have helped in many past droughts, including 2009,” said Suarez. “We can help farmers and ranchers understand the options for their particular water situation, soil type and production goals and develop a plan to get through this drought.” Suarez says top priority will go to helping farmers without access to water who need to protect fragile, uncovered soil. 

USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) is also providing drought assistance through the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP). Farmers and ranchers are encouraged to visit their local NRCS offices as soon as possible to apply for assistance by the March 3 deadline.

In addition, USDA Rural Development continues to provide assistance. “As California’s drought conditions persist, USDA is working closely with state and local government and other partners to provide a comprehensive approach to support those impacted most,” said USDA Rural Development California State Director Glenda Humiston. “At Rural Development we are actively working with those suffering from the drought, ranging from food banks that anticipate a strong spike in demand to rural communities to whose water supply is at risk. We have over 40 programs available to help rural communities, and to the extent possible, we are making drought assistance a priority.”

California lawmakers are also preparing a $644 million emergency drought relief bill designed to quickly fund projects to tackle the severe water shortage. The road to drought recovery may appear long and dry at the moment, but with continued relief from government agencies, as well as the efforts of Californians across private, public, and civic sectors to budget for a new Water Action Plan through the California Economic Summit, the state has the tools in place to ride the tide to recovery.  


Melissa Gonzalo

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