Well into the 2018 hurricane season, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on Monday that the agency is making approximately $2 billion available to farmers and ranchers hit hard by 2017’s catastrophic wildfires and hurricanes. The 2017 disaster season shattered all records, with a federal tally of more than $300 billion in losses from 16 different disasters, affecting over 25 million people. A $6.7 billion disaster relief package was passed by Congress in February as part of the 2017 Bipartisan Budget Act and the $2 billion being doled out by USDA is part of its 2017 Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program (WHIP).
The money comes after a long wait by producers hit hard during the 2017 season. In April, USDA announced they would begin signups no later than July 16, for producers affected by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, as well as the widespread wildfires of 2017. WHIP will provide up to 50 percent payment of losses, up to $125,000, to producers who are in eligible counties. Earlier relief efforts from USDA included the Emergency Conservation Program, the Emergency Watershed Protection Program, and Emergency Assistance for Livestock.
Earlier this spring, lawmakers and Governors from California, Florida, Texas and Louisiana urged USDA to begin distributing relief funds as soon as possible. Climate change is increasing the severity and frequency of natural disasters and extreme weather events. According to the USDA Climate Hubs, increasing atmospheric temperatures are already causing a number of changes impacting producers, including decreasing the water holding capacity of soils and increasing the number of pest infestations. Additionally, the number of extreme weather events, ranging from drought, floods, hurricanes, and wildfires are causing additional uncertainty for agricultural producers.
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