When a tornado touched down in the rural southeast Missouri town of Puxico it sent some ranchers into survival mode. David Smith, owner of Smith Farms was one of them.
“It was a tough setback, financially,” said Smith.
The tornado destroyed three grain bins and damaged two others, causing a loss of about 3,400 bushels of wheat and 4,000 bushels of corn used as feed for over 1,500 cattle. Within minutes Smith saw thousands of dollars blow away, along with fences, a hay barn, outbuildings and feeding equipment.
For two years Smith tried to stay afloat while a new Farm Bill — which would have provided recovery assistance — was being debated in Congress.
Soon, it became obvious to Smith that in order to survive, he had to sell the one thing that wasn’t destroyed — his cattle. So he sold nearly 900 head of cattle, dwindling the herd was down by more than 50 percent.
Smith is one of thousands of farmers and ranchers nationwide who are making appointments with county Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices to receive disaster assistance from USDA. Snowstorms, tornadoes, drought and other natural disasters have forced producers to liquidate herds and sell land to make ends meet because no safety net was available in the form of a Farm Bill. That finally changed in February, when the 2014 Farm Bill passed.
“We are committed to making sure that those who suffered losses due to disasters will be able and empowered to make application for those losses,” said Juan. M. Garcia, FSA Administrator.
USDA pushed to have disaster assistance available in record time.
Smith signed up for, and received help through the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program, at the Stoddard FSA County Office. The program provides emergency relief to producers from disaster not adequately covered by any other disaster program. Other programs include the Livestock Indemnity Program, which provides compensation for livestock death losses in excess of normal mortality caused by adverse weather conditions, the Livestock Forage Disaster Program, which compensates producers for grazing losses, and the Tree Assistance Program, which provides financial assistance to qualifying growers to replant or rehabilitate trees, bushes and vines damaged by natural disasters.
“We have about 600 cattle that we can feed now,” said Smith. “We are in the process of building our herd back up to where we can have 1,000 head.”
Since disaster assistance sign-up began on April 15, USDA has received more than 65,700 applications. As of May 15, USDA has paid more than $111 million to help American farmers, ranchers and their families devastated by severe losses. Producers impacted by drought, snowstorms and other unforeseen weather events should contact their FSA county office to make an appointment and learn if they are eligible for disaster assistance.