Q: What USDA assistance is available for crops damaged by the derecho?
A: The USDA has authority under federal law to issue a natural disaster designation for crop acres that meet certain thresholds of production losses. Following the historic derecho that swept across Iowa on Aug. 10, flattening millions of crop acres across the state, Gov. Kim Reynolds requested the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture consider 57 counties for emergency disaster assistance. Crop damage made up the lion’s share of the $4 billion damage assessment in the governor’s disaster request to President Trump. Throughout my county meetings in August, I saw tremendous property damage impacting homes, farms and businesses. In my decades of farming, I’ve never seen such widespread damage to Iowa crops. Thankfully, more than 90 percent of Iowa farmers manage risk through the federal crop insurance program. During my conversations with Iowa farmers, they shared concerns that derecho and drought damages in 2020 might impact crop insurance payments and premiums in the years ahead. I’ll be sharing farmers’ feedback with the USDA. On Sept. 3, 20 Iowa counties across west-central Iowa reached extreme drought conditions. As farmers make tough decisions about drought-stricken, wind-damaged crops, it’s important to follow guidance from crop insurance adjusters before beginning field work and consider conservation practices to protect soil health for next year’s crop. The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has issued recommendations for farmers to consider the pros and cons of no-till and disking when managing damaged crops. I appreciate that U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue visited Iowa to see first-hand the extent of the damages. During his visit to Iowa, he announced a primary disaster designation for the following 18 counties: Benton, Boone, Cedar, Clinton, Dallas, Guthrie, Hamilton, Hardin, Jasper, Johnson, Jones, Linn, Marshall, Polk, Poweshiek, Scott, Story and Tama. Farmers in these counties should work closely with their local Farm Service Agency to determine available assistance to help keep their operations going, including emergency FSA loans. In addition, farming operations in 24 contiguous counties adjacent to the 18 counties named in the USDA disaster designation also may be eligible for assistance.
Q: What’s in the 2018 farm bill to help improve conservation and sustainability?
A: During drafting of the 2018 farm bill, Sen. Joni Ernst and I led a bipartisan effort to target conservation funding to help improve water quality and soil health on marginal cropland acres. Managing natural disasters, such as the derecho and drought, aren’t the only risk farmers mitigate from one year to the next. For generations, farm families make the commitment to protect and strengthen natural resources that are vital to their livelihoods, long-term productivity, rural economy and the environment. We worked to include key reforms in the farm bill to ensure farm programs and conservation dollars work efficiently and effectively to maximize conservation and minimize distortions in the land market. It’s wrong to see productive farmland enrolled into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) that otherwise would give beginning farmers an opportunity to start their farming operation. We advanced reforms that would limit general sign-up for CRP rental rates, restrict whole farm enrollment and protect rural economies by reforming how much county cropland may be enrolled. Even before the derecho and drought are fully behind us, farmers must always plan for the future. It’s as important as ever to keep strengthening stewardship practices to improve water quality and integrity of the soil for planting and harvest seasons to come. I’m working to ensure farm bill conservation reforms don’t fall off the USDA’s radar screen. I joined a bipartisan letter to Secretary Perdue, urging the USDA to increase the rate of Practice Incentive Payments (PIPs) to the maximum authorized level of 50 percent. In addition to fostering conservation improvements, it would help farming operations impacted by low prices and pandemic-related market disruptions. I also pressed the USDA to cut red tape getting in the way of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). So far, it’s getting needlessly caught up in a bureaucratic quagmire that’s hindering payments for riparian buffers. The USDA needs to take its foot off the brake and start delivering on these reforms to engage farmers whose entire way of life is invested in the health of our natural resources. These federal cost-sharing programs support farmers and landowners in their conservation practices to slow soil erosion, improve soil health and improve water quality. Making these investments sooner, rather than later will improve sustainable production to feed and fuel the world and protect natural resources for generations to come.