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January 13, 2006   Email to Friend 

Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686
January 13, 2006

MONTGOMERY, Ala.,-- Help will soon be on the way for Gulf Coast farmers hit hard by hurricanes, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In a conference call today with the Alabama Farmers Federation and other agriculture groups, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Connor said USDA will be releasing approximately $1.2 billion in disaster aid to assist farmers and ranchers in counties that have been declared presidential disaster areas. While USDA did not give a timeline for when the funds will be available, Connors said USDA would proceed with a signup while administrative details are resolved.

Federation President Jerry A. Newby praised USDA for responding to the urgent calls from Alabama farmers, many of whom have not been able to rebuild or plan for the coming crop year because disaster assistance has not been available.

"We appreciate USDA for taking action to release these much-needed funds," Newby said. "Many of Alabama's farmers have suffered two straight years of hurricane-related losses. While this money won't solve all their problems, these funds will help with the costs to clean up debris, allow them to begin to rebuild their farms and get on the road to recovery. This won't make the hardest hit farmers whole, but it's a start."

The assistance package includes about $115 million for Hurricane Indemnity Payments to producers who had either crop insurance or participated in the Non-Insured Assistance Program. The Livestock Indemnity Program will help livestock and poultry producers who lost animals due to the storms. Payments for that program are projected to be about $15 million.

Another $50 million will go to assist fruit and nut producers under the Tree Assistance Program, and $25 million has been set aside for block grants to affected states to compensate aquaculture producers who experienced income losses.

The Emergency Conservation Program has been expanded to help nurseries, forest owners, poultry growers and other farmers with debris cleanup. USDA expects to spend an additional $200 million for this cost-share program. Forest owners will be able to apply for assistance through a new Emergency Forestry Program (EFP). The new program is part of the Conservation Reserve Program, which sets aside highly-erodible land for conservation uses. Initial funding for the EFP is expected to be about $404 million.

Alabama's share of the Emergency Watershed Program is $23 million. That money will be used to help farmers and ranchers cleanup debris that impairs waterways on private lands.

"We thank Deputy Secretary Connor for seeking producer input in making these funds available as soon as possible, and we urge USDA to begin signup almost immediately," Newby said.

USDA said signup information will be made available to farmers through their state and county Farm Service Agency offices. Eligibility criteria and payment limitations will apply to all disaster programs.

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