The secretary also announced a series of signup dates for other portions of the Agricultural Assistance Act of 2003, including those for hurricane losses for sugarcane producers and the cottonseed assistance program, which could be as early as May 1.
"The department is committed to getting assistance into the hands of affected producers as soon as possible," Veneman said during a briefing with reporters from the USDA radio studios. "Our timetable is several weeks ahead of previous disaster aid packages, even though this is a more complicated bill to implement."
Earlier reports had said signup might not begin until August or later due to the number of signups currently under way or planned at USDA. Secretary Veneman subsequently announced the department would "do everything it could to start the signup as soon as possible."
Part of that involves working to cut regulatory red tape by going directly to final regulations for the disaster programs where possible and implementing many regulations through a single, expedited "mega regulation."
She also provided more details about how payments will be determined, based on the formula for the 2000 disaster assistance program.
"This means crop losses for 2001 and 2002 will be valued using the price election for Actual Production History crop insurance policies, or if that price is not available, a five-year average," the secretary noted.
She said crop disaster payments would also be also subject to a formula which states that the sum of (1) the value of the crop not lost, (2) the disaster payment, and (3) the crop-insurance indemnity cannot exceed 95 percent of what the crop’s value would have been, if there had been no loss.
"Crop disaster payments will be reduced if the 95 percent limitation is exceeded," she said. "The value of the crop not lost and the 95 percent limitation will be valued at either the Actual Production History price election or the NASS season-average price, whichever is higher." (Details will be available from local Farm Service Agency offices, USDA Service Centers and on the web at http://www.usda.gov.)
The secretary said the $60 million in the disaster bill earmarked for hurricane-loss assistance for sugarcane growers and cooperatives will be provided in May, although final details for determining the payments have not been worked out.
"This is a program that is specific to Louisiana, so we are working with the Farm Service Agency and farmers in Louisiana to determine the best way to distribute the assistance to those farmers who suffered losses due to the two hurricanes that occurred last fall," she noted. "We hope to have those finalized soon."
Signup for the $50 million cottonseed program will begin after completion of the 2002-crop ginning season, which occurs around May 1, she said.
"The 2003 program will be conducted in the same manner as previous programs," said Keith Collins, USDA’s chief economist who also participated in the briefing. "We have to wait until the end of the ginning season so that we can determine the losses to producers who were unable to harvest their crops in 2001 and 2002 due to weather."
USDA will also begin distributing $60 million in disaster related assistance for the sugar beet industry following signup beginning in June, the secretary said.
And signup for the disaster bill’s $250 million Livestock Assistance Program that will reimburse producers for grazing losses will begin in July.
The Livestock Compensation Program (LCP) and the Tobacco Payment Program (TOPP) already are in place, with sign-up for TOPP under way and LCP sign-up slated to begin next Tuesday.
Haying, grazing refunds
USDA also is issuing refunds to eligible producers who were assessed payment reductions last year for haying or grazing on lands enrolled under the Conservation Reserve Program. These refunds will total $16.4 million to producers in 28 states.
"This is one more way to assist affected producers," Veneman said. "The refunds will go to farmers and ranchers who were hardest hit by last year’s drought."
Veneman also reminded producers of the April 1 deadline to update acreage bases and yields under the Direct and Counter-cyclical Payment Program of the 2002 farm bill. As of the press conference on March 28, USDA estimated that about 5 percent of eligible producers still had not visited their county offices to either make the updates or make appointments to do so.
Other important dates include the June 2 closing date to sign completed contracts for the 2002 and 2003 Direct and Counter-cyclical Program.