Tester Secures $1.5 Billion for Farmers, Fixes Disaster Assistance Program to Include Montanans Facing Losses This Season

WHIP+ now covers crop losses as a result of quality loss, drought, and excessive moisture

As a part of the year-end appropriations package that passed out of the Senate this week, U.S. Senator Jon Tester secured critical wins for Northeastern Montana farmers facing crop losses this season by expanding the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+) to include quality loss, drought, and excessive moisture and by increasing funding for the program by $1.5 billion to cover the new categories. Tester’s fix also ensures that affected sugar beet farmers will get their indemnity payments through their co-ops.

Tester’s fix clears the way for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to issue an emergency declaration and provide assistance to Montana farmers. Tester was the only member of Montana’s delegation to vote for the domestic government funding package that included this language.

“The USDA should have provided assistance to Montana farmers back in September when we first brought this crisis to their attention,” said Tester. “Now there is no shadow of a doubt that these producers qualify for WHIP+, so the USDA needs to get it in gear and immediately provide support to folks in Northeastern Montana because family farms are on the line. We’re done asking-now we’re telling.”

In September, Senator Tester sent Secretary Perdue a letter asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to clarify that WHIP+ includes value and quality losses, and that farmers in Northeast Montana facing those losses were eligible for the program. Nearly eight weeks later, USDA finally responded that they would not provide assistance to Montana farmers because excessive moisture was not covered under WHIP+.

Then, following two weeks of heavy snow in Northeast Montana in early December, Tester urged Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to reconsider his decision not to extend disaster assistance to the region’s wheat farmers who were forced to leave their crop in the ground or were left with unsellable product due to excessive moisture this harvest season.

“I am extremely disappointed in your decision to exclude Montana farmers from the WHIP+ program for quality loss related to excessive moisture,” wrote Tester. “In a time of extreme market volatility and trade uncertainty, USDA’s mission is to ‘mitigate the significant risks of farming.’ In Northeast Montana, USDA is failing to deliver that objective for struggling farmers.”

The USDA has not yet replied to Tester’s second letter.

As the only working farmer in the U.S. Senate, Tester has been a champion for farmers and ranchers across the country. Earlier this year, he introduced his Seeding Rural Resilience Act to help combat rising rates of farmer suicide, and The Trump Administration recently adopted his Restoring Rural Residencies Act into a rule change to bring more medical professionals into rural hospitals.