Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced an important package of disaster assistance to help farmers, land owners, communities and others recover and rebuild after a year in which a wave of natural disasters swept across all regions of the United States.

The funding, totaling $308 million, provides financial and technical assistance to help rebuild and repair land damaged from flooding, drought, tornadoes and other natural disasters in 33 states.

But will it be sufficient?

According to Reuters, the United States set a record with 12 separate billion-dollar weather disasters in 2011, with an aggregate damage total of approximately $52 billion, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has reported.

Some scientists say a warming atmosphere and more moisture in the air are providing fuel for weather systems, leading to the weather extremes.

Funding is provided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP) as well as the Farm Service Agency's Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) and Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP).

"Landowners, individuals and communities have endured incredible hardships because of the intensity and volume of natural disasters that have impacted their livelihoods," said Vilsack. "This funding will help to rebuild communities, while states can use the funds to carry out emergency recovery measures."

The Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) will contribute $215.7 million to provide financial and technical assistance to address public safety and restoration efforts on private, public and tribal lands. A list of states and their fiscal year 2012 EWP Program allocations can be viewed online. 

The Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) program will contribute $80 million to producers to help remove debris from farmland, restore livestock fences and conservation structures, provide water for livestock during periods of severe drought, and grade and shape farmland damaged by a natural disaster. FSA county committees determine eligibility based on on-site inspections of damaged land and considering the type and extent of damage. For land to be eligible, the natural disaster must create new conservation problems.

The Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP) program will provide $12 million in payments to eligible owners of nonindustrial private forest (NIPF) land in order to carry out emergency measures to restore land damaged by a natural disaster.

A list of states and their fiscal year 2012 ECP and EFRP allocations is available online.

In 2011, USDA enrolled a record number of acres of private working lands in conservation programs, working with more than 500,000 farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices that clean the air we breathe, filter the water we drink, and prevent soil erosion.

USDA's crop insurance program insures 264 million acres, 1.14 million policies, and $110 billion worth of liability on about 500,000 farms. Over the past 3 years, USDA has paid out about $17.2 billion in crop insurance indemnities to more than 325,000 farmers who lost crops due to natural disasters.

Source: USDA, Reuters