Following Tester Demands, Farm Service Agency Promises Relief Details for Montana Farmers Facing Quality Losses
Farmers have waited nearly a year for relief payments
Following an aggressive push last week by U.S. Senator Jon Tester to secure answers for Northeastern Montana farmers who have waited nearly a year for disaster relief for last year’s quality losses, Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Richard Fordyce today announced that FSA will soon provide details about how they can apply for relief.
“Better late than never, but when it comes to providing relief to Northeastern Montana farmers who have been waiting nearly a year for FSA to get its act together, this is unacceptable,” said Tester. “I shouldn’t have to hold FSA’s feet to the fire just to get them to follow the law and do right by folks in production ag, but you better believe I’m keeping the coals hot and ready so Montana farmers don’t get left out in the cold. Disaster relief needs to make it into the pockets of these producers immediately—no more delays.”
Late last week, Senator Tester blasted the USDA in a letter to FSA Administrator Fordyce for delaying payments to Montana farmers for more than a year and demanded answers about when Montanans could expect payments.
“What is the latest date that Montana farmers should expect payments from the WHIP+ program related to 2019 quality loss, excessive moisture, or drought?” Tester wrote. “I am disappointed in Farm Service Agency’s inability to administer this program as Congress intended, and deliver WHIP+ payments to producers impacted by excessive moisture. I look forward to receiving your action plan as to how FSA can correct this situation for Montana farmers, and ensure that going forward WHIP+ does not experience a one-year delay before paying producers.”
Since September 2019, Tester has been fighting to get relief for producers in Eastern Montana facing quality losses due to excessive rain and flooding in the region, and he repeatedly pushed Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to use his authority to support these farmers through the existing WHIP+ guidelines. When Secretary Perdue refused, Tester used the 2019 omnibus appropriations bill to expand the WHIP+ program to include quality loss, drought, and excessive moisture and increased its funding by $1.5 billion to cover the new categories.
Tester was the only member of Montana's delegation to vote for the legislation containing the fix.
Following Tester’s fix, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a disaster declaration for 17 Montana counties, including Cascade, Chouteau, Pondera, Glacier, Teton, Dawson, Prairie, Toole, McCone, Richland, Roosevelt, Wibaux, Daniels, Rosebud, Sheridan, Treasure, and Valley. The FSA opened signup for disaster assistance on March 23, 2020 for producers to apply for eligible losses of drought (D3 or above) and excessive moisture, but this sign-up did not include folks who faced quality losses.