Nature tends to be wild and unpredictable, and as farmers and ranchers, we know this all too well. We’ve seen crops destroyed by hail, pastures wiped out by flooding, and fences demolished by tornadoes. But when disaster strikes, the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) can help us get back on our feet.
The ECP provides Emergency Funding to farmers and ranchers to rehabilitate land, fencing, and conservation structures damaged by natural disasters. Additionally, it can also help implement emergency water conservation measures in periods of severe drought. Simply put, it’s here to help us restore and recover from natural disasters.
So, where do we start?
The ECP is administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA) state and county offices. When disaster occurs, it’s important to document the damage with dated photographs, videos, and third-party verification. You’ll want to report the damage to your local FSA office as soon as possible to request assistance. Every FSA office has different periods of eligibility, so if your area has recently experienced a qualifying natural disaster, contact your local FSA office regarding ECP enrollment periods and eligibility. While qualifying for ECP can be a process, it is worth it to have the financial support and assistance to help restore your operations.
After Notice of Loss is made and you have applied for ECP, the FSA determines eligibility through on-site inspections of damaged land, and the type and extent of the damage. Eligible land includes commercial farming, ranching, and orchard operations; growing nursery stock and Christmas tree plantations; grazing for commercial livestock production; and conservation structures such as waterways, terraces, diversions, and windbreaks. Any conservation problems that existed before the applicable disaster event are ineligible for ECP assistance.
In instances where you need replacement and/or restoration of fencing to keep livestock contained, you may be able to implement emergency conservation practices to rehabilitate it immediately.
To help with restoration, eligible practices include:
1. Removing debris from farmland: This involves cleaning up any wind or water deposited debris, such as woody material, sand, rock, and trash on cropland or pastureland.
2. Grading, shaping, or leveling land: This practice involves filling gullies, re-leveling irrigated farmland, and incorporating sand and silt into the soil.
3. Restoring fences: This practice involves restoring livestock cross fences, boundary fences, cattle gates, or wildlife exclusion fences on agricultural land. You’ll want to make sure your fence is strong enough to keep your livestock in and anything unwanted stays out.
4. Restoring conservation structures: This involves restoring waterways, terraces, diversion ditches, and permanently installed ditching systems.
5. Providing emergency water during periods of severe drought: This practice involves providing grazing and confined livestock with emergency water, as well as utilizing existing irrigation systems for orchards and vineyards.
Once the need for ECP financial resources is determined, the assistance comes in the form of Cost-share payments. It’s like having a friend that offers to split the bill with you, except in this case, the friend is the government, and the bill is the cost of implementing approved restoration practices. ECP cost-share payments are up to 75% of the cost to implement approved restoration practices, at a 500k maximum. That means that if it’s going to cost you $10,000 for restoration, the ECP will cover up to $7,500 of that cost. Cost-share payments for immediate restoration in emergency situations are also available as an advance payment of up to 25% of expected cost for the replacement and/or restoration of fencing. So, if you need to get cows back in their pasture ASAP, you can get some money up front to get started. The Emergency Conservation Program is a valuable resource for farmers and ranchers who have suffered damage to their farmland due to natural disasters or periods of severe drought. Of course, we hope you never have to use any of these emergency measures, but it’s great to know that financial resources and technical assistance are available if you need them!