U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) State Executive Director Blong Xiong announced that 41 counties in California are accepting applications for the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) to address damages to eligible farmland, fences, and conservation structures or other installations from the recent severe storm. ECP signup will begin on February 13, 2023, and end on April 14, 2023.
Producers with damage from storm events must apply for assistance prior to beginning reconstructive work. Producers must complete FSA’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and environmental compliance review process before taking action. Submitting an application after completing reconstructive work may impact eligibility for ECP.
The approved ECP practices under this authorization include but are not limited to
- removing debris from farmland (cleanup of wind- or water-deposited debris such as woody material, sand, rock, and trash on cropland or pastureland);
- grading, shaping, or leveling land (filling gullies, releveling irrigated farmland, and incorporating sand and silt);
- restoring fences (livestock cross fences, boundary fences, cattle gates, or wildlife exclusion fences on agricultural land);
- restoring conservation structures (waterways, terraces, diversion ditches, and permanently installed ditching systems); and
- providing emergency water during periods of severe drought (grazing and confined livestock and existing irrigation systems for orchards and vineyards).
The use of ECP funds is limited to activities to return the land to the relative pre-disaster condition. Conservation concerns that were present on the land prior to the disaster are not eligible for ECP assistance. It will ultimately be a business decision for the farmer/rancher if they can move forward with their own funds to continue production or wait for an approved ECP application.
To be eligible for assistance, producers must not start practices until they’ve met all the following conditions:
- an application for cost-share assistance has been filed;
- the local FSA County Committee (COC) or its representative has conducted an on-site inspection of the damaged area;
- the agency responsible for technical assistance, such as the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), has made a needs determination, which may include cubic yards of material moved, required for rehabilitation
Cost-share assistance has now been authorized to provide advance payments, up to 25 percent of the cost, for all ECP practices before the restoration is carried out. This option was previously available only for fence repair or replacement. The cost-share payment must be spent within 60 days. Cost-share assistance also allows participation from producers who lease federally owned or managed lands, including tribal trust land, or state land.
ECP assists producers with the recovery cost to restore the farmland to pre-disaster conditions. Approved ECP applicants may receive up to 75 percent of the eligible cost of restoration measures. Eligible socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers and ranchers can receive up to 90 percent of the eligible cost of restoration. No one is eligible for more than $500,000 cost sharing per natural disaster occurrence.
Note that ECP won’t help with crop loss. Crop loss is covered by crop insurance if a grower has a private policy or a policy with FSA’s Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP). NAP enrollment is retroactive only for farmers and ranchers who had already filed a CCC-860 (Socially Disadvantaged, Limited Resource, Beginning and Veteran Farmer, or Rancher Certification) with their local FSA office office before the declared disaster.
Farmers and ranchers, as applicable, are encourage to fill out the CCC-860 when registering with the Farm Service Agency for future benefits such as a higher percentage of payments for multiple programs like the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP), Food Safety Certification Cost Share Program, Emergency Conservation Program (ECP), and more, in addition to free basic crop insurance premiums with NAP.
Important information to know for those who may be considering filing a CCC-860:
- USDA is not a regulatory agency, so farmer/rancher personal identifying information is not shared with any other agency. By law, USDA employees cannot share personal identifying information with anyone.
- FSA should present this form to eligible producers, but the producer has the right to fill it out or not.
Counties approved for ECP are as follows: Alameda, Colusa, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Fresno, Glenn, Humboldt, Kings, Lake, Los Angeles, Madera, Marin, Mariposa, Mendocino, Merced, Mono, Monterey, Napa, Orange, Placer, Riverside, Sacramento, San Benito, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Tulare, Ventura, Yolo, and Yuba.
For more information on ECP, please contact your local FSA office or visit farmers.gov/recover. There is high demand for the program, so the sooner you contact your FSA office, the better. To find your local FSA office visit farmers.gov/service-center-locator.
This article is adapted from a news release issued by the USDA Farm Service Agency on February 9, 2023, and is enhanced with additional information.