USDA’s Wildfire Indemnity Program Offers Possible Drought Assistance for California Farmers

February 28, 2020

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced additional disaster assistance available to agricultural producers, including producers impacted by drought and excess moisture as well as sugar beet growers.

California officials are bracing for the potential of another drought and an early and more intense wildfire season amid a record-breaking warm and dry February.

February is shaping up to be driest on record for much of the state, with chances of light showers on the horizon on March 1 and then not again until March 10.

Through WHIP+, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s stated goal is helping producers recover from losses related to 2018 and 2019 natural disasters.

USDA’s Farm Service Agency will open signup on March 23 for producers to apply for eligible losses of drought (D3 or above) and excess moisture. USDA is also entering into agreements with six sugar beet processing cooperatives to distribute $285 million to grower members of those cooperatives who experienced loss.

“It’s true that farmers and ranchers are no strangers to the impact natural disasters have on their operations, but disaster events the past two years have been atypically widespread, relentless and unforgiving,” Secretary Perdue said. “In some instances, producers have suffered multiple disaster events in one year or in several years back-to-back.”

In June 2019, more than $3 billion was made available through a disaster relief package passed by Congress and signed by President Trump. In December 2019, Congress passed, and President Trump signed the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 that provides an additional $1.5 billion for the continuation of disaster assistance program delivery.

WHIP+ New Qualifying Disaster Events

The Appropriations bill added excessive moisture and D3 and D4 drought as qualifying losses for WHIP+ assistance.

Beginning March 23, producers who suffered either of these types of loss in 2018 and/or 2019 can apply for WHIP+ assistance at their local FSA office. For drought, a producer is eligible if any area of the county in which the loss occurred was rated D3 (Extreme Drought) or higher on the U.S. Drought Monitor during calendar years 2018 or 2019.

WHIP+ Sugar Beet Loss Assistance

As also directed in the Appropriations bill, USDA will provide $285 million through sugar beet processing cooperatives to compensate grower members for sugar beet crop losses in 2018 and 2019. Details will be finalized in agreements between USDA and participating sugar beet processing cooperatives. Sugar beet producers who are members of these cooperatives and experienced losses may contact their cooperative for more information about how this sugar beet crop assistance will be administered.

WHIP+ for Quality Loss

In addition, producers have reported widespread crop quality loss from eligible disaster events that results in price deductions or penalties when marketing the damaged crops. The Appropriations bill expands WHIP+ to include assistance for crop quality loss. FSA is gathering data and input from producers and stakeholders regarding the extent and types of quality loss nationwide.

To be eligible for WHIP+, producers must have suffered losses of certain crops, trees, bushes, or vines in counties with a Presidential Emergency Disaster Declaration or a Secretarial Disaster Designation (primary counties only) for the following named natural disaster events: hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, typhoons, volcanic activity, snowstorms, wildfires, and now excessive moisture that occurred in 2018 or 2019.

Also, losses located in a county not designated by the Secretary as a primary county may be eligible if the producer provides documentation showing that the loss was due to a qualifying natural disaster event. For drought, counties having a D3 or D4 Drought Monitor classification in any portion of the county anytime during calendar year 2018 or 2019 will also be eligible.

Because livestock losses are covered by other disaster recovery programs offered through FSA, these losses are not eligible for WHIP+.

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