USDA responds to Senators Request to Unleash Resources for Montana Farmers and Ranchers Impacted by Drought

(U.S. SENATE) – Montana’s U.S. Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester announced a new emergency disaster assistance plan is on the way from the Agriculture Department. The plan means less red tape, quicker disaster response times on claims from farmers and ranchers and lower rates for emergency loans.

Baucus and Tester pressed the U.S. Department of Agriculture earlier this week to quickly approve emergency disaster assistance requested by multiple Montana counties. In the letter they wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, they pushed the department to recognize the urgency of resources needed to get Montana’s largest industry back on track.

“Montana farmers and ranchers are being dealt a tough hand with severe weather and wildfires – so it’s critical that we stand with them to get them through this tough time.  Our ag producers are the heart of Montana’s economy and they deserve quicker access to emergency assistance and more flexibility to get folks back on their feet,” said Baucus.

“Timely help for folks to rebuild fences and get emergency loans to save their herds is key to helping farmers and ranchers recover from the drought and wildfire,” Tester said.  “I’m pleased USDA responded to our request to speed up the process to get help for affected producers.”

In response to Baucus’ and Tester’s call for quick action, the USDA will:

  • Speed up processing time for county disaster assistance requests
  • Reduce interest rates for emergency loans to farmers and ranchers
  • Increase payments for Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands qualified for emergency haying and grazing

The changes are expected to result in a 40 percent reduction in processing time for most counties affected by disasters; a reduced interest rate for emergency loans that effectively lowers the current rate from 3.75 percent to 2.25 percent; and reduces the payment reduction on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands qualified for emergency haying and grazing in 2012 from 25 to 10 percent.

Six Montana counties have requested disaster assistance so far, with more requests expected in the coming days.

Tester and Baucus announced last Thursday that many ranchers in two fire-ravaged Montana counties will be able to use CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) land to move their herds out of the path of wildfire. 

Last month, the Senate passed a Farm Bill that included a provision inserted by Baucus to make the Livestock Disaster Assistance Programs permanent.  The Senate provision is retroactive for 2012 and would provide assistance to ranchers affected by the current fires. The bill is now awaiting action in the House.