USDA Assesses Alabama Farm Damage

Federal assistance is available to farmers in Alabama who are working to clean up the damage of last week’s tornadoes.

by Dani Yokhna
Alabama tornado
Courtesy Alabama Farmers Federation
Ten out of 15 of Dan Smalley’s poultry houses were damaged when tornadoes hit Guntersville, Ala. His chicks were 1 day old at the time.

As Alabama began to dig out from deadly tornadoes that ripped through the Southeast last week, the state’s agricultural leaders met with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about programs to help farmers whose lives and livelihoods were impacted by the storms.

Vilsack joined Janet Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security; Craig Fugate, FEMA administrator; Shaun Donovan, secretary of Housing and Urban Development; and Karen Mills, Small Business Administration administrator; on a tour of tornado-ravaged Pratt City near Birmingham, Ala., on Sunday, May 1, 2011.

Paul Pinyan, executive director of the Alabama Farmers Federation, gave the USDA chief an overview of the agricultural damage in Alabama. In addition to hundreds of poultry houses that were destroyed or damaged by tornadoes, farmers also have been impacted by miles of downed fence, thousands of acres of flattened forest, and tons of debris that littered their fields. Farmers in northern Alabama also have burned hundreds of gallons of fuel to keep generators running during the prolonged power outage.

Within hours of last week’s storms, the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries activated the Emergency Operations Center, located in the basement of the department’s headquarters in Montgomery, Ala. EOC staffers continue to receive calls about damage to farms, issue burial permits for poultry growers and gather information regarding USDA disaster programs.

Preliminary damage reports indicate that poultry losses were in the millions with more than 200 poultry houses destroyed and an additional 514 damaged. As of Monday afternoon, 38 cows and 19 horses had been reported dead. Department officials expect these numbers to rise as they learn more about the extent of the destruction.

Vilsack noted that producers who’ve suffered poultry and livestock losses may be eligible for assistance through the Livestock Indemnity Program. In addition, the Emergency Conservation Program provides cost-share assistance for fence repair and debris removal, and some losses may be covered by crop insurance or the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program. The presidential disaster declaration also makes farmers eligible for emergency loans through the USDA, and Vilsack said he would work with state officials to secure a secretarial disaster declaration, which will trigger the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program (SURE).

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“Right now, I want to make sure I get the folks here connected—to make sure we get things done,” Vilsack says.

He also reassured state agriculture leaders, “If there’s a stumbling block, if there’s a hitch—something that’s not getting done—you have my number.

Alabama farm leaders, including John McMillan, Alabama’s commissioner of agriculture and industries, visited with Vilsack for more than an hour as he and fellow cabinet members toured the northwest Birmingham community.

“This is going to be a time when our faith, ingenuity and resolve are going to be tested,” McMillan says. “I flew over North Alabama for four and a half hours (Saturday), and we haven’t even started talking about the rural devastation. It’s going to take a whole lot of resolve and dedication to get through this.”

Farmers can visit their local FSA office to learn more about disaster programs. For assistance regarding damage at animal operations resulting in animal mortality, call the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries EOC at 334-240-7278.    


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