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Sign on Letter to Secretary Tom Vilsack regarding California Drought

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Sign on Letter to Secretary Tom Vilsack regarding California Drought

July 17, 2014

The Honorable Tom Vilsack, Secretary
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave NW
Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

As the impact of the severe drought in California widens, we are grateful to you to call attention and action to the crisis by traveling to Fresno tomorrow.

We continue working with National Hmong American Farmers, Inc. (NHAF) to support their emergency efforts to reach and assist the Hmong and other diverse producers in the region who face this sudden and growing loss of their crops and their livelihoods.

Our Board member, Chukou Thao of NHAF, has already been working with state and local USDA officials and other agencies on a solution oriented approach to the emergency.  We have attached the fact sheet assembled from a recent interagency meeting that NHAF has begun using to help make families aware of the resources and support available to them.

We fear that given the scale of the situation, the resources and action identified will be insufficient to address the most immediate needs. We therefore recommend the following additional actions:

  • Work with the state of California on assuring that disaster declarations are timely and sufficient to the scale of the crisis.
  • Consider other emergency action to improve water supply, such as calling upon the National Guard to truck in water tankers in any case where well water could feasibly be restored or supplemented.
  • Supply additional farm loan personnel to reduce processing time for microloans and other emergency support to under 2 weeks rather than 30 days.  NHAF staff, already working with more than 15 families on microloan applications, is prepared to assist many more in the near future.
  • With 2500 Hmong producers in Fresno alone, outreach by qualified community-based organizations such as NHAF who possess deep familiarity with the producers and farm programs is essential.  We therefore urge you to assure the funds notice for the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers is expedited for immediate release.
  • Because of the significant level of distress and despair the producers are expressing, the mobilization of emergency support for farmers and their families is essential.
  • Coordination of agencies with NHAF and others on providing workshops and information to all affected producers on the use of all risk management tools, including filing all required reports, deserves special attention.
  • Long term solutions, including resource management practices to reduce the underlying causes of the current crisis also merit attention.

 

The thousands of socially disadvantaged producers and farmworkers in the region are the first suffering the impact of this crisis, with the smallest safety net. We urge USDA and other agencies to prepare for the fact that this is not an isolated situation and requires the response of the whole community.  The fact sheet presented here should be expanded into a comprehensive emergency toolkit to that can be shared and adapted across the country to assist the many other communities who unfortunately will also face crises similar to that in California.

We have also learned that as many as 40% of the farmworker population in California is out-of-work due to the drought conditions in California. A more comprehensive and meaningful disaster program must be developed by USDA to be responsive to farmworkers (the human input in agricultural production) as well as farmers and landowners. This is essential for us to have full equity and true compassion in our governmental response to droughts, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters.

Because diverse communities are often first and most seriously affected in all disaster situations, the toolkit should be expanded, and shared in all the languages necessary in any region.

We further request that you allocate 5 minutes of visit to hear directly about the current impact and ideas for action to assist Hmong and other producers, from NHAF Director Chukou Thao, and Y. Armando Nieto of our member group Community Food and Justice Coalition who will accompany him.

We thank you for your visit, and look forward to working with you and your colleagues on creating solutions commensurate with the scale of the crisis.

Sincerely,

 

John Zippert                                                                                                 Georgia Good
Chair Person                                                                                                Vice Chairperson

Lorette Picciano                                                                               Rudy Arredondo
Executive Director                                                                           Board Member

Cc:
Krysta Harden, Deputy Secretary
Val Dolcini, CA State Executive Director, Farm Service Agency
Glenda Humiston, CA State Rural Development Director
Carlos Suarez, CA State Conservationist
Juan Garcia, Administrator, Farm Service Agency
Brandon Willis, Administrator, Risk Management Agency
Greg Diephouse, Deputy Administrator for Field Operations
Chris Beyerhelm, Deputy Administrator for Farm Loans
Joe Leonard, Ph.D, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights
Carolyn Parker, Director, USDA Office of Advocacy and Outreach
Russ Friend, County Executive Director, Fresno County

Attachment I:  Drought conditions affecting Small Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers

Drought conditions affecting Small Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers

                                                2014 Fact Sheet

Overview and Discussion:

  • Many small acreage socially disadvantaged (SDA) farmers
  • In Fresno County are facing a serious financial disaster because their agricultural wells are drying up due to the extensive California drought.
  • In addition, there is lack of surface water provided by the various irrigation districts in the county due to the same drought. 
  • This is causing total crop loss for the affected growers, which in turn causes a severe financial loss, resulting in growers going out of business.
  • It was also noted that this lack of well and surface water is affecting growers of all sizes throughout California. 
  • Concern expressed that well companies were quoting 6 to 8 weeks or longer to deepen wells, and many quotes were in excess of $10,000 to $20,000, a fee not affordable by the small growers. 
  • Concerned expressed that the well companies might be overpricing their services and taking advantage of the growers. 
  • One problem was noted that many of the SDA farmers lease the land they farm, and that land owners are not particularly interested in spending money to improve the well on their property.

 

Resources:
Each of the agencies represented provided information on any services they had that might assist with the problem as follows:

USDA -NRCS – Provides assistance with conservation of water via conversion to a drip irrigation system through their EQIP program.  The next application signup for EQIP is October.

USDA-FSA – Provides assistance through low interest emergency loans (filing deadline of September 15, 2014), farm operating loans, farm ownership loans and micro loans.  With the exception of emergency loans, applications are accepted at any time, and take up to 60 days to process.  The applicant must be able to provide sufficient records to show repayment, and have sufficient security.  FSA also sells a crop insurance product that covers specialty crops grown in Fresno County.  This product, called NAP, provides catastrophic crop loss coverage for growers who purchase the insurance.  Many of the Limited Resource growers in Fresno County are eligible to have the NAP insurance fee waived. 

USDA -Rural Development – Provides assistance to rural homeowners who are having domestic well problems, and are also providing assistance to many of the small cities in the San Joaquin Valley that are having problems providing water to their residents. Repair and rehabilitation loan grant Sec. 504

USDA-Risk Management Agency – Provides assistance to crop producers who purchased crop insurance and suffer loss of water supply due to drought.  It was noted that no strawberry growers in Fresno County purchased crop insurance. 

California Dept. of Food and Agriculture – No assistance to rehabilitate or drill new wells is available.  CDFA has provided a list of agencies and possible resources on their web page located at http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/drought/.

UC Davis Extension Service – No assistance to rehabilitate or drill new wells is available.  They will assist growers with filing the necessary forms to try to secure financing or other assistance with the various agencies in Fresno County.

The County of Fresno – May provide some assistance through the Housing Assistance Rehabilitation Program (HARP) to very low income individuals living in rural Fresno County who are having domestic well issues.  No agriculture wells are covered.  Applications are processed through Fresno County Community Development.

Other Suggested Solutions and Resources

1. Producers try to acquire financing through conventional avenues or through the various
FSA loan programs and make necessary repairs on the wells.
2.  Producers use water trucks to transport water to their crops.
3.  Producers who have Federal Crop insurance or NAP insurance report the loss to their crop insurance provider, or FSA if they have NAP insurance.
4.  Producers begin to plan for next year and inquire now with Federal Crop Insurance or FSA on how to secure crop insurance for next year.
5.  The need for a joint National Hmong American Farmers (NHAF), Extension and FSA meeting to assist SDA and other small farmers in understanding and applying for Federal Crop insurance and NAP was recognized.
6.  In addition to a list of Fresno County food pantries, and mental health agencies.

Participating Agencies
Each of the agencies represented provided information on any services they had that might assist with the problem as follows:

National Hmong American Farmers – (559) 225-1081/ (559) 313-3339

USDA Farm Service Agency – (559) 276-7494

Rural Development – (559) 276-7494

University of California Davis Extension Service – (559) 241-7515

Natural Resources Conservation Services – (559) 276-7494

Fresno County Agriculture Department – (559) 600-7510

Congressman Jim Costa – (559) 495-1620

Dept. of Public Works and Planning Fresno County – (559) 600-4078

US Secretary of Civil Rights – (202) 720-3808

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services – (559) 233-4498

Department of Housing Urban Development – (559) 487-5033

Fresno Food Bank – 559-237-3663

Fresno Mental Health Institute – (559) 453-4099

Suicide Prevention Hotline – 1-888-506-5991

Participating Agencies

Congressman Jim Costa’s Office
National Hmong American Farmers, Inc.
USDA-Farm Service Agency
USDA-Rural Development
University of California Davis Extension Service
USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Services
National Family Farm Coalition
Fresno County Agriculture Department
Fresno County Development
USDA Office of Civil Rights
USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services
Department of Housing Urban Development
Fresno Food Bank
Fresno Mental Health
Rural Coalition
Federation of Southern Cooperatives
OSEC
Fresno County Department of Public Works and Planning

This is an original letter at link below:

Letter to Sec Vilsack on CA drought 7-18-14

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