Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman has announced a $25 million disaster assistance package for southern California farmers and ranchers suffering damages from last fall's wildfires and the 2002 McNally fire.

“The assistance will help crop and livestock producers recover from devastating wildfire losses,” Veneman said.

This relief package includes funding under the Livestock Indemnity, Tree Assistance and Emergency Conservation Programs.

Last fall's 10 wildfires damaged more than 400,000 acres, including 315,000 crop and rangeland acres on 600 farms. The fires particularly impacted producers of specialty crops, such as nursery plants, citrus and avocados, and killed 400 head of cattle, affecting about 30 cattle producers.

Sign-up for the Livestock Indemnity, Tree Assistance and Emergency Conservation Programs, which are authorized under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2004 (The Act), is from April 19 through June 18, 2004. For each program, if the dollar amount of accepted applications exceeds the funding allocated, USDA will limit claim amounts as needed. The program funding amounts were prescribed under The Act.

Indemnity program

Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) assistance totaling $500,000 will provide partial reimbursements to eligible owners for livestock losses suffered due to the fall 2003 fires and the 2002 McNally fire.

For producers who suffered losses due to the fall 2003 fires, LIP is available in the counties of Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura. LIP assistance is also available for Kern and Tulare County producers for losses suffered due to the McNally fire. Contiguous counties are ineligible.

Eligible LIP livestock categories are cattle, buffalo, beefalo, sheep, goats, swine and poultry, and for equine animals used for food or in the production of food.

USDA will determine LIP payments based on the applicable market value for each livestock category during the disaster period, minus normal mortality rates, as determined by USDA.

Tree assistance

Tree owners with fruit tree losses due to the fall 2003 fires may receive cost-share assistance from the $12.5 million Tree Assistance Program (TAP). The program provides payments to replace damaged fruit trees in the counties of Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura.

Qualifying fruit trees are those from which an annual fruit crop is produced for commercial purposes. Tree losses must be 15 percent or greater for the individual stand, adjusted for normal mortality. In addition, all provisions of the TAP regulations dealing with eligibility must be met.

Program participants will be reimbursed for the lesser of: 1) 75 percent of the tree owner's actual costs to replant; or 2) the cost to replant, as established by USDA. Claims are limited to 500 acres and $75,000 per person.

Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) assistance totaling $11.9 million will help farmers and ranchers rehabilitate farmland damaged by the fall 2003 fires. ECP provides cost-share and technical assistance to help producers restore fences and conservation structures, provide water for livestock and grade and shape farmland damaged by the fires.

ECP assistance is available in the counties of Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura. Eligible producers will receive cost-share assistance of up to 75 percent of the cost to install the approved conservation practices.

Local Farm Service Agency (FSA) county committees determine producer eligibility for ECP based on on-site inspections of damage. For a producer's land to be eligible, the fires must create new conservation problems that, if untreated, would impair or endanger the land and affect its productive capacity. Conservation problems existing prior to the fires are ineligible for ECP assistance.

Applying for aid

To apply for assistance under the three programs, eligible farmers and ranchers should contact their local California FSA county office. Program payments will begin soon after sign-up ends on June 18.

USDA offers additional assistance to help farmers and ranchers recover from damages caused by natural disasters.