USDA Offers Disaster Assistance and Information on Disaster Programs

fire and clouds of smokeDid you see USDA’s September 2 press release? With this release, USDA is encouraging livestock producers who suffered eligible disaster-related losses to enroll in the Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) by October 1. If livestock producers experienced grazing losses as far back as October 2011, they may be eligible for benefits. Grazing losses must be due to qualifying drought or fire-related condition during the normal grazing period for the county. The program is offered through the Farm Service Agency (FSA).

In addition to LFP, USDA provides many other programs to farmers during an emergency or disaster. They are offered through the FSA, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Rural Development (RD), and Risk Management Agency (RMA).

This printable brochure  from USDA offers a brief description of each program. Download it for quick reference to nineteen  disaster-related USDA programs.

Meet a Delegate Monday: Scott Cotton

Michelle Bufkin, AU Agriculture Communications Student/EDEN Community of Practice Social Media Assistant, recently interviewed EDEN delegate Scott Cotton, who has two upcoming webinars.

Scott Cotton1. How did you first get involved with EDEN?
In 1997 Colorado had a large blizzard that swept across 22 counties and killed 35,800 head of cattle. The response to the blizzard was not ideal; it took about eight weeks to identify the livestock owners and dispose of the mass mortalities. The Animal Emergency Task Force was formed in response to the blizzard; it includes state and federal veterinarians, extension personnel, and brand inspectors. One of the university officials came to us and mentioned that we should get involved with EDEN. Since I had a background in emergency services, they sent me to find out more information. It was the third EDEN meeting, 11 people attended, but it was a helpful experience. When I returned to Colorado we decided to join EDEN, and that I should be the point of contact.

2. You have been with Extension in a few states (Colorado, Nebraska, and now Wyoming)? Have there been variations in the kinds of disasters and the preparedness needs of the people in the areas you have served? What are they?
The areas I work in are predominantly cow-calf, and dry-land farming areas, and it’s been that way in all three states I worked in. I experienced a lot of similarities, the differences are in each state’s structure and how they dovetail together with efforts to educate and develop resilience is dramatically different. In each state, each agency might have completely different roles.

Each state system is different, and yet similar. The reality of extension is continuity across the United States. Each area within the state is also different; my emphasis has always been the rural areas, where there is less readiness but more resilience. This is because ranchers and farmers are very self-sufficient; they are strong on neighboring, and helping each other recover. The drawback is when rural areas experience large disasters their resources are so small they get overwhelmed almost instantly. That’s where my big push has been over the last 20 years; to help livestock producers and farmers become more prepared and resilient.

In 1964, there was a national disaster guideline book sent out to extension offices that mentioned, especially in the western states, after a disaster the sheriff and extension will manage the disaster. A lot of our employees do not realize they may be called upon to respond to a disaster, but the community depends on it. Everything we do has a bearing on our community’s ability to recover.

3. You’ll be co-presenting two webinars this month. Tell us about them.
This month we are doing two webinars, both related to horses and disasters. Over my past 40 years I have had experience as a rural firefighter, EMT, and deputy sheriff. I then moved into extension where our role with responses is actually bigger than some people realize. We often end up assisting or coordinating shelters, evacuation patterns, and finding resources for disasters. I am using some of that experience to present with HorseQuest, an equine specialist group across the United States, two seminars: one targeting horse owners and the second targeting extension personnel. The first webinar will be focused on what owners can do to help their horses survive a disaster. We’ll talk about practice loading horses, having a predetermined evacuation route, having the right information in your horse trailer, having a horse trailer, knowing how to get out under different types of disasters, and more.

The second webinar will be using some of my experiences to help extension professionals. We will talk about experiences in Incident Command System and Strengthening Community Agrosecurity Preparedness Project. We will also talk about when extension professionals might be called upon to help plan disaster evacuation routes, providing educational materials about disasters with horses, including how to assess the impact area of a disaster, how to find where extension best fits into the emergency services role in their community, how to use our resources to help mitigate some disaster to horse owners.

4. As a veteran EDEN delegate, what advice do you have for new delegates?
Build your contact framework, because you will need it! The reality is that when a disaster occurs in your state it is not protocols and paper, it is relationships that help. It is everyone understanding their role, their resources and expertise available, and being ready to interact with each other. The most successful way to do that is to have a comfort level with the other agencies, organizations, and people in the community. Then when something happens there is a trust level, where they know you will help. The communities themselves will always recognize Extension stepping forward and taking an active role.

The people we work with are absolutely amazing. It does not matter if I have a flood and need to call Pat Skinner or Becky Koch, or a disease outbreak and need to call someone, or even after 9/11 when we bounced messages all across the nation. The group works together, they are very much a team even though we are scattered clean across the states, so use that to your advantage.

 

 

If you are interested in the webinar for horse owners (September 16 at 7pm ET) register here.

If you are interested in the webinar for Extension professionals (September 19 at 1 pm ET) register here.

Meet a Delegate Monday: Andy Vestal

Michelle Bufkin, AU Agriculture Communications Student/EDEN Community of Practice Social Media Assistant, recently interviewed EDEN delegate Dr. Andy Vestal, who will have a breakout session at the EDEN Annual Meeting. 

1. How did you first get involved with EDEN? Dr. Andy Vestal

I got involved in EDEN about a month before Hurricane Katrina, in July of 2005. I was immediately led to the effort because of a six-year grant for animal disease and homeland security response and recovery. Within a month of being in this position, Hurricane Katrina hit followed by Hurricane Rita, and we realized we had a lot to do preparedness-wise. The fall of 2005 was my first visit to the EDEN Annual Meeting in Fargo, North Dakota. It was an experience for me to see the overall mission and goals of the organization: to help people help themselves.

2. Without divulging too much of your annual meeting material, can you tell us how the strike teams were formed?

After any incident an after action report is filed. After [Hurricane] Ike the report stated there was high priority to establish mission ready teams of seasoned County Extension Agents, CEA, that were deployable. The first teams were established in the Gulf Coast, where 7 million Texans live.

3. What are some of the disasters that have affected Texas over the past few years and how have you been involved?

In 2008 when Hurricane Ike hit us it was a challenge; 32,000 families lost their homes along with a large agricultural loss. Hurricane Ike, though only a category 2 hurricane, was about 450 miles wide. It pushed an 18 foot wall of water 20 miles inland, covering mostly ranchland that had about 35,000 head of cattle. We realized that within 72 hours the cattle would have saline toxicity, because all they had to drink was salt water. We deployed our strike teams to create Livestock Supply Points, LSP’s, and from September 13 to 30 we received and distributed over 125 semi-truck loads of feed and hay. By week 3, we started shipping about 15,000 head of cattle into other parts of the state.

In 2011 every geographic region of Texas had challenges with wildfires; there were over 32,000 in the state, and dozens were 50,000 acres or greater; over 3 million acres burnt. Our Livestock Supply Points and CEA strike teams were again activated to stand up 13 LSP’s. Our goal was not to put out fires, but to help landowners with displaced livestock. We received and distributed approximately 120 semi-truck loads of hay and feed. We were much better prepared, because we had about 50 County Extension Agents that were seasoned, trained, and mission ready.

4. What has been the most rewarding thing you have done in terms of disaster preparedness for your state?

The Hurricane Ike recovery, “Operation No Fences” on YouTube shows the land and livestock owners response, along with county agents and other volunteer organizations. The support we built for them was rewarding to our county extension agents because we had farmers and ranchers that had lost everything. To find that we had a mobilized team supporting them was unexpected, but extremely helpful. We estimate we saved the USDA indemnity program more than $10 million by shipping cattle out, since it saved their lives, and it costs about $600 a head to bury cattle. Also about 80% of the cattle shipped out had brands and/or ear tags; we had brand inspectors to help identify the rightful owners. Through these efforts we were able to maintain the strong fabric of the local agricultural economy in that area.

5. Have you worked on any multi-state projects through EDEN and what have those been?

I have had two major multi-state projects through EDEN. Both were funded by the Department of Homeland Security, DHS, at Texas A&M. The goal of the first was to strengthen crisis communications. We adopted the Association for Communication Excellence, ACE, group’s curriculum called “Media Relations Made Easy.” We incorporated an animal disease issue scenario into the training and partnered with multiple land grant universities to host a series of six workshops using that curriculum. We had about 180 Ag communicators from 29 states and Canada attend.

The second project was partnering with 22 state veterinarians and extension programs to test and establish an animal health network in those states. This program is still up and running. The mission of that project was to improve upon the state veterinarian’s capability to have early detection and rapid response to animal diseases, especially in smaller, hobby farms.

6. What do you think is the most important thing EDEN delegates can do to help the citizens in their states?

Learn from other state’s experiences. There’s a lot of different material and experiences that states can learn from each other. When we learn from each other we may reinvent something we learned from Washington State to fit our state, but the fact that we have guidance is extremely valuable.

If you haven’t yet registered for 2014 EDEN Annual Meeting, follow this link to register.