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War spending bill also aims to rebuild farm fields

Agriculture.com Staff 02/10/2016 @ 2:04pm

Tucked into a $162 billion war funding bill passed by the Senate this week is $479 million for two emergency programs that could help farmers and landowners in the flood ravaged Midwest clear fields and rebuild terraces, grassed waterways and buffer strips.

The supplemental appropriations bill includes $89 million for the Emergency Conservation Program run by USDA's Farm Service Agency and $390 million for the Emergency Watershed Program administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, who is also on the Appropriations Committee, fought for the extra spending, which he said Friday would likely fall short of the need.

"The full extent of the damage inflicted on the Midwest by the recent flooding and excessive rainfall is still unknown," said Harkin. "Yet in touring Iowa, it is evident that there are a great deal of pressing conservation needs on the ground now in terms of damaged conservation structures and debris removal needs. To that end, this funding is a critical first step toward recovery, but I doubt this will be the final word on emergency funding for conservation. As flood damage is assessed I would anticipate a more detailed determination of conservation needs and there will likely need to further emergency funding provided."

Harkin said NRCS estimates that it will need $500 million for its Emergency Watershed Program.

That program works mainly with other government organizations but it may also help individual farmers, Dick Tremain, a spokesman for the Iowa NRCS office, told Agriculture Online. With the funding just passed by Congress and the bill not yet signed by the President, it's not surprising that the Iowa office had not gotten details on the new conservation help by Friday.

NRCS is urging farmers to assess the damage from flooding and to contact their local NRCS office.

And while you're at your local USDA ag center, it might be good to stop in at the FSA office, too. Funds from the Emergency Conservation Program can be used to help farmers pay for rebuilding terraces and many other conservation structures, with the exception of private levees, said Bruce Cordes, a public affairs specialist with the Iowa office of FSA.

"Some of these repairs can be cost shared up to 75%," Cordes said.

But it's important to apply for the Emergency Conservation Program before doing any work, he said, or you may jeopardize your eligibility for the program.

Cordes wasn't certain either when the extra money would be available, but farmers are often paid by the program after making the repairs. "Get those repairs made, and keep those receipts," he advised.

The level of cost share varies, and because it’s based on government estimates of such things as bulldozer operating costs, you may not get 75% back on all that you spend on repairs.

The bottom line, check with local FSA offices and NRCS offices soon if you haven’t already.

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