Texas Ranchers to Get Emergency Aid From USDA, State After Hurricane Harvey

By Teaganne Finn

Ranchers whose pastures have been flooded by Hurricane Harvey, leaving cattle stranded or displaced, will get emergency assistance from the Department of Agriculture.

The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has already teamed up with veterinarians and the Texas Animal Health Commission to provide on-site assessments and employ horseback emergency response teams to save cattle. Still, they cannot fully assess livestock losses, said Texas Animal Health Commission spokesman Thomas Swafford.

“A lot of people have cut their fences and let the animals escape,” said Swafford. “We ... will be checking in with local crews often.”

The ranch and farm owners are in a holding pattern because of damage to their homes and the need to evacuate people, Texas and Southern Cattle Raisers Association spokesman Jeremy Fuchs told Bloomberg BNA in a phone call.

“We are anxious and ready to assist as we are able,” said Fuchs.

Hurricane Harvey is still soaking southeast Texas with more than 40 inches of rain since Friday Aug. 25 and is now targeting the upper Texas coast and parts of Louisiana. The rainfall is set to continue throughout the week, causing serious concern to ranchers in the surrounding areas.

Corey Christian and his wife, Sandi, moved their 500-head herd three miles Aug. 28, a “huge undertaking” according to Christian, owner and operator of Christian Services LLC and Christian Farms. “It’s just horrific. I feel like we should have done this two weeks ago,” he told Bloomberg BNA.

There are a number of state programs that provide assistance to agricultural producers, said Fuchs. The most important thing is getting that information out and making sure they are aware of those resources, he said.

‘Critical Program’

Livestock specialist Tracy Tomascik told Bloomberg BNA he hopes that the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP) will provide support to ranchers. To benefit from the program, “eligible adverse weather” must be determined by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

“It is a critical program,” said Tomascik who supports a potential expansion of ELAP in the 2018 farm bill.

ELAP was included in the 2014 farm bill, authorizing as much as $20 million in Commodity Credit funds in a fiscal year. It covers losses that are not covered under the other disaster assistance programs such as the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), also written into the 2014 farm bill.

The Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) provides benefits to livestock producers for livestock deaths in excess of normal mortality. LIP would provide payments equal to 75 percent of the market value of the applicable livestock. LIP eligibility must also first be determined by Secretary Perdue. He mentions the assistance programs in a press release sent Aug. 25.

Although for the time being APHIS has been very attentive, said Tomascik, "[a]t this point what we’re doing is getting ready to re-enter the flood areas and take account of what has all happened.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Teaganne Finn in Washington at tfinn@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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