WASHINGTON - USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) will allow producers who would otherwise be ineligible for the new disaster assistance programs to become eligible by paying a fee as required by the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (the 2008 Act).

The 2008 Act requires producers who wish to participate in the new disaster programs to have crop insurance or non-insured crop disaster assistance (NAP) coverage for the land for which assistance is being requested, and for all farms in all counties in which they have an interest. Since the 2008 Act was enacted after the application periods had closed for those programs, producers who did not have such coverage could not comply with this requirement in order to be eligible for the new disaster programs. However, the 2008 Act authorizes a waiver that allows producers to pay a fee, called a “buy-in” fee, to be eligible for this new disaster assistance.

Every producer whose crops, including grazing lands, are not fully covered by crop insurance or NAP may take advantage of this one-time opportunity. The buy-in fee is due no later than Sept. 16, 2008, 90 days after the date of enactment, as required by the 2008 Act. Those who miss this opportunity will not be eligible for disaster assistance. Producers are also reminded that the payment of the applicable buy-in fee does not afford the producer crop insurance or NAP coverage; it only affords eligibility for the 2008 disaster programs.

The crop insurance and NAP coverage requirements will be waived in 2008 for producers who did not obtain crop insurance or NAP coverage by the applicable sales closing date, if the producer files an application for waiver and pays a buy-in fee in an amount equal to the 2008 applicable NAP coverage or catastrophic risk protection plan fee for the crop or grazing lands.

Producers who meet the definition of “Socially Disadvantaged, Limited Resource,” or “Beginning Farmer or Rancher,” do not have to meet the Risk Management Purchase Requirement, and, therefore, are not required to pay the buy-in fee.

The buy-in fee for 2008 eligibility only for either the catastrophic risk protection insurance (CAT) or NAP is $100 per crop, but not more than $300 per producer per administrative county, or $900 total per producer for all counties less any previously paid fees for CAT and/or NAP.

Producers can contact their local administrative FSA County Office to file the application for waiver and pay the applicable fees.

The applicable buy-in form must be completed and applicable fees paid by Sept. 16, 2008. Payment of the applicable fees will allow the producer to be eligible for benefits for losses under Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments (SURE) Program, Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP), Tree Assistance Program (TAP), and Emergency Assistance Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP).

The 2008 Act authorizes funds to be used to make payments to farmers and ranchers incurring eligible crop production/quality losses under the SURE Program, grazing losses under LFP, livestock death losses under LIP, and losses suffered by producers of livestock, honeybees, and farm-raised fish under ELAP. The 2008 Act also authorizes TAP.

To be eligible for SURE, TAP, and ELAP, producers must meet the Risk Management Purchase Requirement by purchasing at least the CAT level of crop insurance for all insurable crops and/or NAP coverage for non-insurable crops. To be eligible for LFP, producers must meet the Risk Management Purchase Requirement by purchasing or obtaining for the grazing land incurring the losses where assistance is being requested, a policy or plan of insurance under the Federal Crop Insurance Act, including pilot programs such as the Pasture, Rangeland, Forage Program (PRF) or NAP coverage by filing the required paperwork and paying the administrative fee by the applicable State filing deadline. The Risk Management Purchase Requirement does not apply to LIP.

The SURE program will be available to eligible producers on farms in disaster counties, designated by the Secretary, including contiguous counties that have incurred crop production losses and/or crop quality losses during the crop year. However, Congress determined that payments would not occur until the calculation at the end of the marketing year.

It also will be available to any farm where, during the calendar year, the total loss of production on the farm, because of weather, is greater than 50 percent of the normal production of the farm.

The LFP program will be available to eligible livestock producers who suffered grazing losses for eligible livestock, because of drought on land that is either native or improved pastureland with permanent vegetative cover or planted to a crop specifically for providing grazing. The LFP program will also be available to eligible livestock producers who suffered grazing losses for eligible livestock, because of fire on rangeland managed by a Federal agency, if the eligible livestock producer is prohibited from grazing the normal permitted livestock on the managed rangeland.

The LIP program will be available to eligible livestock producers on farms that have incurred livestock death losses in excess of normal mortality, because of adverse weather, as determined by the Secretary during the calendar year, including losses because of hurricanes, floods, blizzards, disease, wildfires, extreme heat and extreme cold.

The TAP program provides assistance to orchardists and eligible nursery tree growers who produce nursery, ornamental, fruit, nut or Christmas trees for commercial sale that lost trees, bushes, or vines, because of a natural disaster, as determined by the Secretary.

The ELAP program will provide emergency relief to producers of livestock, honey bees and farm-raised fish, because of losses from adverse weather or other conditions, such as blizzards and wildfires, as determined by the Secretary.

Because Congress did not provide a rulemaking exception for these programs, FSA must first publish a proposed rule seeking public comment, followed by a final rule. FSA is working to develop detailed regulations and software for these programs. Sign up for these programs is not expected to be held until this winter.