Tester Secures Huge Win For Montana Producers as USDA Opens Disaster Assistance for Montana Farmers

Farm Service Agency will open signup for disaster assistance on March 23 USDA announcement comes on the heels of legislation authored by Senator Tester expanding assistance eligibility for farmers facing quality loss and excessive moisture

After months of efforts by U.S. Senator Jon Tester on behalf of Montana farmers in Eastern Montana, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that the Farm Service Agency will open signup for disaster assistance on March 23 for producers, including sugar beet growers, to apply for eligible losses of drought (D3 or above) and excessive moisture.

This announcement comes on the heels of an update to the WHIP+ program that was secured by Senator Tester in December following months of efforts to get USDA to provide relief for Montana producers. Tester’s fix ensures that farmers facing quality loss, drought, and excessive moisture qualify for support through WHIP+ and it increases funding for the program by $1.5 billion to cover these new categories. Tester was the only member of Montana’s delegation to vote for the legislation containing the fix.

“Secretary Perdue sure walked around the block to cross the street on getting this assistance to Montana producers, but I’m glad he’s finally doing his job and making support available to farmers,” said Tester. “Congress ordered USDA to get its act together and provide these folks with some relief because it’s absolutely critical Montana’s family farmers have the certainty they need to thrive and continue growing the food that feeds our nation.”

Following the USDA’s disaster declaration for 17 Montana counties earlier this month, Tester sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue urging him to quickly implement the new provisions of WHIP+ and determine criteria and payment rates for producers in order to bring them certainty for the 2020 growing season.

“Now that Congress has paved the way for USDA to provide aid, I ask that you quickly implement the new provisions of WHIP+,” wrote Tester. “President Trump signed the funding bill into law more than a month ago, and…yet, I am hearing from sugar and wheat producers in Montana that they are no closer to receiving a disaster payment. As farmers and lenders evaluate finances and credit opportunities for the 2020 growing season, WHIP+ will play an important part in balancing the books.”

The 17 counties covered by the disaster declaration are: Cascade, Chouteau, Pondera, Glacier, Teton, Dawson, Prairie, Toole, McCone, Richland, Roosevelt, Wibaux, Daniels, Rosebud, Sheridan, Treasure, and Valley.

Tester has been fighting to get relief for producers in Eastern Montana since September, when he sent Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue a letter asking the USDA to clarify that WHIP+ includes value and quality losses, and that farmers in Northeast Montana facing those losses were eligible for the program. Tester followed up with a another letter to Secretary Perdue in December.

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.