-Mother Nature Makes Her Rounds - Flooding in California Reminder
of Midwest and Southeast Natural Disasters
-CA Farmers Losing Crops, Livestock
-State, Federal Agencies Respond
-Difficult For Farmers to Access Aid
-Farm Groups Work to Implement Permanent Disaster Relief Tools
-New Disaster Bill Threat to Farmers
ACTION ALERT, RESOURCES, PUBLICATIONS
MOTHER NATURE MAKES HER ROUNDS - FLOODING IN CALIFORNIA
REMINDER OF MIDWEST AND SOUTHEAST NATURAL DISASTERS
RThe deluge swept away livestock on the North Coast, destroyed
peach and prune crops in the Sacramento Valley and flooded
strawberries and other high-rent fruits and vegetables in the south.
Almond trees blew over by the thousands, and mucky orchards
continue to slow the harvest of oranges as grocersU supplies of citrus
grow ever thinner,S reported the SACRAMENTO BEE following the
first several weeks of rain in California.
This is just one of many reports detailing the harsh effects of a
Pacific storm on hundreds of California farmers. Although the Pacific
storms have not had nearly as devastating an impact on California
growers and farmworkers as did the flood that swept across farmers'
crops in the Midwest two years ago, the recent rains, high winds and
unseasonably warm weather could accelerate California's trend
toward fewer producers.
California has been losing thousands of its small-sized farmers over
the past decade. The latest Census of Agriculture shows that
between 1987 and 1992, California lost nearly seven percent of its
83,000 farms. Small producers -- those with sales totaling $40,000
or less -- accounted for the entire decline, notes the California
Institute for Rural Studies in their winter newsletter, Rural California
Report. Many of California's small producers, particularly those
whose avocados, lemons, oranges and other tree crops cost $35,000 -
$55,000 per acre were ruined by the storms, will be forced out
further along a financial tightrope.
As happened in the Midwest, the financial effects of this most recent
natural disaster could long outlast the physical damage caused by the
CA FARMERS LOSING CROPS, LIVESTOCK
Total statewide agricultural loss was estimated at $84.6 million as of
January 30, 1995, when up to 24 inches of rain had been dumped on
many of California's farmers. According to the California
Department of Food and Agriculture , major crop and livestock
damage has occurred as the result of four weeks worth of rain and
high winds along the Russian, Napa and Petaluma rivers.
Following are examples of what farmers in a few of the 24
federally-declared disaster counties are facing:
-Three feet of water on wheat and almond crop floors in Butte;
-Flooding of waste containment ponds in Marin;
-Vegetable crops ruined; disease and quality problems; planting
schedules delayed in San Luis Obispo; and
-Milk production down; livestock stranded in Sonoma.
Tom Haller who represents the Community Alliance for Family
Farmers says the unseasonably warm weather accompanying the
storms poses an even greater risk to growers than the wet weather.
"Fruit trees are beginning to blossom from warm weather - this
increases growers' chances of losing their crop to late frost or more
rain," Haller said during a recent telephone interview.
STATE, FEDERAL AGENCIES RESPOND
State and federal governments have agreed to provide temporary
relief to all of California's storm victims.
No state aid has been specifically earmarked for farmers whose crops
and livestock have been hit by the storms, but the CDFA will hold a
public hearing February 17 to consider a temporary emergency
increase in the minimum farm price for Class 1 (fluid) milk. "This
hearing is being held to gather public testimony and evidence
regarding whether or not the drop in prices for February and March,
combined with the higher [production] costs caused by the storms,
has caused a critical situation for dairy farmers," said CDFA
Secretary Henry J. Voss.
At the federal level, the Rural Economic and Community
Development office, formerly the Farmers Home Administration, is
making low-interest disaster loans available to farmers, ranchers and
low-income rural residents who suffered property damage from the
storms. The emergency loan rate ranges from 3.75 percent to 11.25
percent. Farmers have until September 11, 1995 to apply for an
RECD emergency loan.
DIFFICULT FOR FARMERS TO ACCESS AID
California farmers and farmworkers are experiencing some of the
same difficulties in accessing aid that disaster-stricken producers
faced in 1993 and 1994. Farmers in the Midwest and Southeast
accused many of the government agencies responsible for
administering disaster aid of prolonging farmers' recovery process
by failing to communicate the availability of aid and imposing
confusing deadlines, inconsistent regulations and demanding
Farm Aid spoke with several farm organizations in California,
including the California Farm Bureau, about the state and federal
response to the recent storms. Nearly all of the organizations were
unaware that the RECD is making aid available to farmers.
Don Villarejo with the California Institute for Rural Studies said even
the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which makes
loans available to anyone affected by the storms, has made it
difficult for millions of the state's Spanish-speaking population to
access emergency loan information. "Approximately 20,000 of
California's farmworkers, who have been unable to work for the past
month because of rain, haven't applied for aid because they aren't
able to understand the disaster claim instructions described in
English," Villarejo says.
FARM GROUPS WORK TO IMPLEMENT PERMANENT DISASTER RELIEF
Family farm groups are working directly with farmers, farmworkers
and the federal government to reform ineffective disaster policies
and their implementation.
The California Institute for Rural Studies, for example, has been
meeting with Spanish-speaking farmworkers to notify them of the
available federal assistance and to help them make the telephone call
in English to FEMA.
Meanwhile, Dakota Rural Action has been working one-on-one with
farmers in South Dakota and the USDA since the 1993 flooding to
reform federal response to natural disasters. DRA, along with several
other farm organizations, convinced the federal government to make
available to farmers a "disaster deferral" on loan payments due to
the former FmHA. The enactment of the Disaster Set-A-Side
program, announced October 21, 1994, allows farmers to defer their
1993 operating loan repayment to take advantage of needed cash
Under the program, farmers are able to defer their loan repayment,
normally due in December of the following crop year, by adding it to
the balance of their loan. In general, all borrowers operating in a
county-declared 1993 disaster area are eligible to participate in the
program, providing they have not been late in making any past
In South Dakota, 793 out of 5,312 eligible FmHA borrowers had
applied for the deferral by December, 1994. "We have heard great
reports about the program from borrowers, FmHA staff and
mainstreet businesses who like it (Disaster Set-A-Side) because it is
simple, has little red tape, and is truly 'farmer friendly'," said South
Dakota farmer and DRA representative LeRoy Stohr. "It also is
saving the government thousands of dollars in costly restructurings
DRA has teamed up with the National Family Farm Coalition and the
Farmers' Legal Action Group to push for a permanent extension of
the Disaster Set-A-Side program so that farmers affected by future
disasters will have the same loan deferral option available to them
and an opportunity to survive the financial aftermath of Mother
NEW DISASTER BILL THREAT TO FARMERS
New disaster legislation, introduced to Congress February 3 by
Representative Richard Durbin (D-Illinois), could further threaten
farmers' ability to recover financially from future disasters. Durbin,
along with Representatives David Obey (D-Wisconsin) and Charles
Stenholm (D-Texas) want to set up a federally chartered, private
insurance company that would force individual states to pay
premiums to cover the cost of future disasters.
If Durbin's proposal had been in affect during the 1993 Midwest
flooding, the federal government would not have provided more than
$1 billion in aid, notes the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH. Chris Sifford,
spokesperson for Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan, said the state
could not have afforded to pay the disaster costs from 1993's
flooding. "We did not have the money in our rainy day fund to even
begin to pay for the problems," Sifford said. "We did our part, but
federal assistance was critical."
Under the new federal crop insurance program passed by Congress
last fall, farmers must sign up for a minimum of crop coverage or
forfeit all federal farm program benefits. Crop insurance sign-up
deadlines are February 15 in the South, February 28 in the Southeast
and March 15 in most other U.S. growing regions. Contact a local
Consolidated Farm Service Agency Office to register.
For more information about the groups and publications mentioned
in this bulletin and their work, please contact the person or office
listed at the numbers below.
California Department of Food and Agriculture disaster report due
out February 15. Emma Suarez Pawlicki, CDFA Director, External
Affairs: (916) 654-0462.
Rural Economic and Community Development office of California,
California Institute for Rural Studies, (916) 756-6555.
National Family Farm Coalition, (202) 543-5675.
Community Alliance for Family Farmers, Tom Haller, (916) 756-
Dakota Rural Action, Theresa Keaveny, (605) 697-5204.
We welcome comments and suggestions: contact Harry Smith at
FARM AID, (617) 354-2922. We encourage the reproduction of
FARM AID NEWS. Produced by The Institute for Agriculture and
Trade Policy (IATP) for FARM AID. Editors: Gigi DiGiacomo and
Harry Smith. For information on other agriculture bulletins, contact
IATP: (612) 379-5980.