Farmers told to expect flood disaster aid

Bruce Schultz bschultz@agcenter.lsu.edu
Area farmers gathered at Sunshine Equipment Co. in Donaldsonville to get an understanding of what programs are available to assist them with their flood-related losses.

A series of meetings throughout south Louisiana were held by Mike Strain, commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, to assure farmers that state and federal aid is available to help them get through the flooding crisis.

Meetings were held in Indian Bayou, Opelousas, Batchelor and Donaldsonville - at the Sunshine Equipment Co. on La. 70.

LSU AgCenter economist Kurt Guidry said the total agricultural losses are estimated at $110 million so far.

We know that is going to change. That’s really our first stab at it,” he said.

Depending on the weather, it could be 14 to 21 days before a final figure is determined on total loss, Guidry said.

We’re probably getting close to the $200 million mark,” Strain said.

The commissioner said 28 to 30 parishes have been affected by flooding. The LSU AgCenter damage estimate should  further his case with U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to provide disaster funds similar to the allocations after hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008.

The current farm bill provides no relief for affected crawfish producers, but Strain said he will seek special funding from Washington to help cover those losses.

We won’t know until next year what our losses are,” he said.

It will be important for the Louisiana congressional delegation to make a unified effort to obtain emergency funds. Strain said Vilsack notified him that $63 million for emergency loans is available for agricultural producers.

Widespread mosquito control is being planned, with the possibility that federal aircraft could be deployed, he said.

Strain said he will ask federal officials if work visas can be extended for foreign labor.

Strain, a veterinarian, also provided practical advice, saying cattle should not be stressed further.

Now is not the time to run them in a chute and vaccinate them while they are stressed.”

He advised cattle owners to monitor herds for black leg disease and anaplasmosis.

Fluids in flooded machinery should be replaced, he said.

Craig McCain, Louisiana director for the USDA Farm Service Agency, said a wide variety of assistance can be provided, but farmers must meet with FSA representatives in their parish offices as soon as possible. He said the Acadia Parish FSA office flooded and has relocated to the Jefferson Davis Parish office.

Commercial beekeepers that lost hives can be compensated, he said.

Cattle owners who had to move herds can get compensation for hay and feed needed for the relocated animals, McCain said.

The Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program provides financial assistance to producers of noninsurable crops when low yields, loss of inventory or prevented planting occur due to natural disasters. This includes native grasses for grazing. Eligible producers must have purchased NAP coverage for 2016 crops.

The Livestock Indemnity Program offers payments to eligible producers for livestock death losses in excess of normal mortality due to adverse weather, McCain said.

The Tree Assistance Program provides assistance to eligible orchardists and nursery tree growers for qualifying tree, shrub and vine losses due to natural disasters.

An emergency assistance program is available for livestock, honeybee and farm-raised fish producers for losses from feed shortages, disease or adverse weather not adequately addressed by other disaster programs. It also covers physically damaged or destroyed livestock feed that was purchased or mechanically harvested.

Harvested forage must be baled to be eligible. Producers must submit a notice of loss to their local FSA office within 30 calendar days after the loss is apparent.

McCain said record-keeping is essential for receiving help.

Disaster loans also are available for failed crops and acreage not harvested, he said.