President Obama toured the Fresno, Calif., area Friday visiting a farm and participating in a roundtable discussion with farmers and others affected by the drought.
The president is also there to take a firsthand look at the drought’s impacts on agriculture and to talk about the administration’s response efforts to provide relief to those harmed by the extended dry weather.
The latest Drought Monitor map says that as that almost 92 percent of California is experiencing severe to exceptional drought.
During his visit Friday, the president is announcing efforts the administration is taking. Along with the president are U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, California Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor. Also accompanying the president are Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and California Congressman Jim Costa.
“President Obama and I will continue to do everything within our power to support California farmers, ranchers and families living in drought-stricken areas,” said Vilsack, reiterating what he has been often repeating up to last week’s signing of the farm bill. “We are now able to offer long-awaited livestock disaster assistance, which will provide needed stability for California livestock producers impacted by drought.”
In a conference call to reporters Thursday evening, Vilsack also pointed out that the livestock disaster assistance will also give assistance to livestock producers impacted by Winter Storm Atlas that hit South Dakota early last fall.
USDA has declared 54 counties in California as primary natural disaster areas due to drought. Additional USDA resources announced for California and other drought-stricken states today include:
• $100 million in livestock disaster assistance for California producers. The 2014 Farm Bill contains permanent livestock disaster programs including the Livestock Forage Disaster Program, which will help producers in California and other areas recover from the drought. At President Obama’s direction, USDA is making implementation of the disaster programs a top priority and plans to have the programs available for sign up in 60 days. Producers will be able to sign up for the livestock disaster programs for losses not only for 2014 but for losses they experienced in 2012 and 2013. While these livestock programs took over a year to get assistance out the door under the last Farm Bill– USDA has committed to cut that time by more than 80 percent and begin sign-up in April. California alone could potentially receive up to $100 million for 2014 losses and up to $50 million for previous years.
• $15 million in targeted conservation assistance for the most extreme and exceptional drought areas. This includes $5 million in additional assistance to California and $10 million for drought-impacted areas in Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado and New Mexico. The funding is available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) administered by USDA. The assistance helps farmers and ranchers implement conservation practices that conserve scarce water resources, reduce wind erosion on drought-impacted fields and improve livestock access to water.
• $5 million in targeted Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program assistance to the most drought impacted areas of California to protect vulnerable soils. EWP helps communities address watershed impairments due to drought and other natural occurrences. This funding will help drought-ravaged communities and private landowners address watershed impairments, such as stabilizing stream banks and replanting upland sites stripped of vegetation.
• $60 million has been made available to food banks in the State of California to help families that may be economically impacted by the drought. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing help to food banks through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).
• 600 summer meal sites to be established in California’s drought stricken areas. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is working with the California Department of Education to target efforts to expand the number of Summer Food Service Program meal sites this summer. There are expected to be close to 600 summer meal sites throughout the drought stricken areas.
• $3 million in Emergency Water Assistance Grants for rural communities experiencing water shortages. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is making $3 million in grants available to help rural communities that are experiencing a significant decline in the quality or quantity of drinking water due to the drought obtain or maintain water sources of sufficient quantity and quality. These funds will be provided to eligible, qualified communities by application through USDA-Rural Development’s Emergency Community Water Assistance Grants (ECWAG). California state health officials have already identified 17 small community water districts in 10 counties that are at risk of running out of water in 60-120 days. This number is expected to increase if current conditions persist.
Today’s announcements build on other recent USDA efforts to help farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners mitigate the impacts of drought. Last week, USDA announced $20 million in Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funds for agricultural conservation enhancements on key agricultural lands in California. These enhancements include irrigation efficiency, cover crops, orchard pruning, and protection of grazing lands. USDA also announced $15 million in Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) in available funding to state and local governments, Tribes, universities, businesses and agricultural producers. These grants are dedicated to stimulating the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches and technologies, including those that will help communities adapt to drought and climate change.