The Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Farm Service Agency, two agencies within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are announcing that they will make available $6.6 million to help farmers and ranchers recovering from Southern California fires in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Ventura Counties.

"There is a lot of good work underway helping the people and landscape of Southern California," says Lincoln "Ed" Burton, state conservationist for the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. "But this assistance is to fill a special void of helping agricultural producers as best as we can within our authorities to help."

"We want this to be as customer friendly as possible," says John Smythe, state executive director of the Farm Services Agency in California. "Of course our respective programs have different opportunities and limitations, but we pledge to work together to make the assistance to the producer as effective as possible."

From the NRCS, $4.6 million is being made available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to protect newly exposed soil from severe erosion and to install agriculture infrastructure such as irrigation systems, needed to maintain the crops and other vegetative covers essential to protecting the hillsides.

Through FSA, approximately $2 million will be made available for debris removal from orchards and to replace livestock fencing, through the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP). Both programs will offer a 75 percent cost share.

Avocado, citrus groves and nurseries have been especially hard hit from these recent fires, according to Dave Heilig, assistant state conservationist for the NRCS in Riverside. "Farmers have reported loss of irrigation systems, soil protecting mulches, cover crops, and the crops themselves," Heilig said. "Our intent is to help these farmers get the most important conservation measures back on the land to save soil and water which in turn can help save their crops. The groves of trees and other crops that have been affected by fire are in critical need of reliable irrigation," he added.

Only those with agricultural production history on lands damaged by fire are eligible for ECP or for this special EQIP program, and other eligibility criteria must be met.

"John and I toured groves and nurseries devastated by the fires and we saw the frustration and sadness in the faces of those who saw their hard work melted away in the fire," says Burton. "But we also saw their hope and determination to pick up the pieces and go forward. We hope this assistance will help producers start anew and keep agriculture viable in Southern California."

Applicants approved and funded will be responsible for implementing their EQIP conservation recovery plans. All applications will be screened for eligibility and proposed projects must show environmental benefits over existing conditions.

In San Diego County alone, about 100 farmers are expected to sign up for assistance, according to NRCS District Conservationist Cori Calvert Butler who oversees NRCS programs in San Diego County. "We're moving fast to mobilize a team of conservation planners and engineers to get EQIP or ECP ready for new applicants," she reports.

For more information about the programs or to submit an application, visit the NRCS Web site at www.ca.nrcs.usda.gov, the FSA Web site at www.fsa.usda.gov, or any of the offices listed below. Applications for either program will be accepted at any of the following offices:

Escondido NRCS Field Office

332 S. Juniper St., Ste 110

Escondido, CA 92025

(760)-745-2061

Lancaster NRCS Field Office

44811 N. Date Ave., Ste G

Lancaster, CA 93534

(661)-945-2604

Somis NRCS Field Office

3380 Somis Rd.

Somis, CA 93066

(805)-386-4489

Riverside/San Diego FSA Office

82-901 Bliss Ave.

Indio, CA 92201-4355

(760)-347-3675

4500 Glenwood Drive Bldg B

Riverside, CA 92501

(951) 684-3722

(951) 788-7843 Fax

Web sites: http://www.ca.nrcs.usda.gov

http://www.fsa.usda.gov