Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack met face-to-face last week with about 40 farmers, ranchers and producers from Iowa and Nebraska impacted by flooding along the Missouri River. The Secretary promised the group he would stay until every question had been answered and every concerned voiced – and he did just that, engaging in a dialogue that lasted more than two hours.
The producers, who are watching floodwaters approach – and in some cases, inundate their fields – expressed concerns about USDA’s ability to help them weather the disaster. Vilsack promised USDA would do all it can. He pointed to the Farm Service Agency and its disaster assistance program that helps producers recover from production and physical losses due to natural disasters. The Secretary also highlighted federal crop insurance programs and their ability to reimburse producers for disaster-related losses.
Asked by one farmer if he understood the broad implications of the flood, Vilsack responded by describing his experiences dealing with disasters as the governor of Iowa and his recent trips to tornado-stricken areas in the South and flood-ravaged areas in the Midwest. Moreover, at the direction of President Obama and Secretary Vilsack, USDA’s top officials have traveled to areas impacted by flooding, fires and tornadoes across the country.
“America’s farmers and rural communities are vitally important to our nation’s economy and our values, and my heart goes out to all who are facing hardships because of severe weather and natural disasters,” said Vilsack. “I know this is a hard, frustrating time for folks, and I want all residents, farmers, ranchers and businesses to know that USDA will be working to make sure folks have food, shelter and necessary resources to recover from these challenges. We will continue to work with state and local officials, as well as our federal partners, to get you back on your feet.”
Producers highlighted challenges with failing levees and the potential for flooded fields that could last all summer. One Iowa farmer said there was a chance his fields may be unsuitable for planting until 2013. Vilsack stressed USDA’s readiness to assist and the role the federal government has already played in disaster recovery across the nation. For instance, USDA has provided over $110 million in disaster-related food assistance to help more than 660,000 individuals in eight States and 184 counties. To date, USDA has also provided 10 states a total of $9.6 million to restore land damaged by flooding.
The Secretary also stressed his concern for the rural communities along the river and the economic impact of the flooding. He reminded those in the room that USDA Rural Development has the ability through its Community Facilities program to assist in the construction or repair of a levee that serves to protect the general public.
Vilsack also urged those in the room to be proactive.
“This is the reality,” he said. “I don’t think this is the last wet year we’re going to have. I think these extreme weather conditions are part of our future.”