As President Barack Obama and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack got a personal look at California’s drought-ravaged Central Valley on Feb. 14, USDA and other federal agencies prepared to speed disaster aid to the state.

Oddly enough, however, much of the program outlined by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack targets livestock producers; leaving nut, fruit, and row crop farmers in a hazy situation regarding federal help.

Faced with what Secretary Vilsack terms “the worst drought in over a hundred years,” Californians enter the spring season with reduced water supplies a certainty, meaning hundreds of thousands of acres could be fallowed.

Permanent vine and tree crops are threatened as well, due to water allocation cutbacks.

USDA declared 54 California counties primary natural disaster areas due to the drought.

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USDA expects to make $100 million available to California’s livestock producers under an accelerated disaster assistance program restored in the newly signed farm bill. The livestock disaster assistance program, shelved since its predecessor expired in 2011, will get payments to producers within 60 days of application.

“Normally this process takes 6-8 months,” Vilsack says.

Livestock producers in other states recently hit by natural disasters, like the Dakotas where many cattle froze to death last fall, or Texas, where they took drought-related hits, can also apply for aid. Vilsack says the agency can make as much as $1 billion available for overall assistance.

Vilsack says nut producers may be eligible for disaster aid under USDA’s tree assistance program. Dairy farmers could get help from both the forage and livestock indemnity programs.

“It’s conceivable the tree assistance program might be of assistance to tree producers, to nut producers here in this state,” Vilsack said.

Fruit and vegetable growers may be eligible to receive some of the $5 million targeted for conservation assistance in California as part of a $15 million effort for drought-stricken states, including New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

The money available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) administered by USDA can be used to conserve water usage, reduce wind erosion, and improve livestock access to water.

In addition, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is providing $20 million in EQIP funds for California conservation projects. The NRCS cost-share funds can be used for irrigation efficiency, cover crops, orchard pruning, and grazing land protection.

Cropland with a reduced water allocation of at least 85 percent will receive highest priority.