USDA proposes improvements to help deliver disaster assistance more quickly to producers


U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Bruce Nelson announced that USDA is accepting comments on a proposed rule to streamline the process for its Secretarial Disaster Designation, allowing farmers and ranchers devastated by natural disaster to obtain assistance faster. The improvements outlined in the proposed rule aim to cut the time to make a disaster designation by as much as 70 percent. Designating disaster counties is a key step to authorizing disaster assistance for some of the programs administered by USDA. Disaster assistance provides support to American producers as part of the farm safety net. USDA believes that a strong farm safety net is important to the vitality of American agriculture.

“America’s farmers and rural communities are vitally important to our nation’s economy, producing the food, feed, fiber and fuel that continue to help us grow,” said Nelson. “Therefore, it’s crucial that we help farmers remain productive through difficult times. When disaster strikes, this proposal will help us provide assistance more quickly, streamlining processes from six steps to two. That’s the kind of improvement we need to make.”

A natural disaster designation makes all qualified farm operators in the designated areas eligible for a variety of assistance from USDA, including low interest emergency (EM) loans and the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE). The Secretary of Agriculture is authorized to designate disaster counties to make disaster assistance programs available to farmers and ranchers.

Currently, designations require a state governor or Indian tribal council to initiate disaster designation through a formal request of the Secretary. The process has been in place for more than two decades and regulations have not been substantively revised since 1988. Streamlining the process from six steps to two will enable USDA to help those in need in an expedited manner, allowing farmers and ranchers devastated by natural disaster to obtain emergency loans faster than before. Additionally, the proposed rule can help to ensure all eligible disaster counties receive a designation.

The proposed rule for Secretarial Disaster Designations:

Streamlines the USDA Secretarial designation process from a six-step process to a two-step process. Expedites and simplifies the disaster designation process for severe drought occurrences by using the U.S. Drought Monitor as a tool to automatically trigger disaster areas with no further documentation. Removes the requirement that a request for a disaster designation be initiated by a state governor or Indian tribal council. Note: This rule still allows a state governor or Indian tribal council to request a Secretarial Disaster Designation.

The proposed rule, which is contained in the Federal Register dated Nov. 14, 2011, at, has a 60-day comment period. Comments on the proposed rule must be submitted no later than Jan. 13, 2012, to be considered.

For information about FSA and its programs, visit a local FSA county office or go to

The Obama Administration, with Agriculture Secretary Vilsack’s leadership, has worked tirelessly to strengthen rural America, implement the Farm Bill, maintain a strong farm safety net, and create opportunities for America’s farmers and ranchers. U.S. agriculture is currently experiencing one of its best years in decades thanks to the productivity, resiliency, and resourcefulness of our producers. Today, net farm income is at record levels while debt has been cut in half since the 1980s. Overall, American agriculture supports 1 in 12 jobs in the United States and provides American consumers with 86 percent of the food we consume, while maintaining affordability and choice. The Obama Administration has aggressively worked to expand export opportunities and reduce barriers to trade, helping to push agricultural exports to record levels in 2011 and beyond. Strong agricultural exports are a positive contribution to the U.S. trade balance, support nearly 1 million American jobs and boost economic growth.

Source: USDA FSA