Wheat Harvest 2021

A combine harvests a wheat field along Harvey Shaw Road, northwest of Walla Walla, on Wednesday afternoon, July 21, 2021. Wheat crops appear to have experienced some of the most severe impacts of the drought, with yields down an average of around 30-35%, according to Northwest Grain Growers.

As farmers and livestock producers throughout the West experience a historic drought, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., announced Wednesday, July 21, that the U.S. Department of Agriculture authorized technical and financial assistance programs to support agricultural producers.

Agricultural producers moving into recovery mode and assessing damages should contact their local USDA Service Center to report losses and learn more about program options available to assist in their recovery from losses, Murray said in a statement.

“As the majority of Washington state is under an emergency drought declaration, I want our farmers to know that there are important resources available to help them get through this really tough time,” Murray wrote. “USDA has disaster assistance programs that can mitigate some of the financial losses incurred by our growers right now.”

Disaster assistance

Producers who lose livestock and feed due to natural disasters may be eligible for the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees,and Farm-Raised Fish Program.

This also provides eligible producers with compensation for expenses associated with transporting water to livestock physically located in a county that is designated as level “D3 Drought — Extreme” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Producers will need to file a notice of livestock loss within 30 days and honeybee losses within 15 days of the loss becoming apparent.

Livestock producers may also be eligible for the Livestock Forage Disaster Program for grazing losses due to drought.

Additionally, emergency haying and grazing of Conservation Reserve Program acres may be authorized to provide relief to livestock producers in areas affected by a severe drought or similar natural disaster. Emergency haying and grazing status is reviewed and authorized each Thursday using the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Counties are approved for emergency haying and grazing due to drought conditions on a county by county basis, when a county is designated as level “D2 Drought — Severe” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Eligible orchardists and nursery tree growers may be eligible for cost-share assistance through the Tree Assistance Program to replant or rehabilitate eligible trees, bushes or vines lost during the drought.

This complements Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program or crop insurance coverage, which covers the crop but not the plants or trees in all cases. For TAP, a program application must be filed within 90 days.

FSA also offers a variety of direct and guaranteed loans, including operating and emergency loans, to producers unable to secure commercial financing.

Producers in counties with a primary or contiguous disaster designation may be eligible for low-interest emergency loans to help them recover from production and physical losses.

Loans can help producers replace essential property, purchase inputs such as livestock, equipment, feed and seed, cover family living expenses or refinance farm-related debts and other needs.

Region hit hard

Walla Walla and Columbia counties are experiencing extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. In Oregon, Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties are experiencing either extreme or severe drought, depending on location.

Crop insurance claims related to the drought have already spiked, according to Debbie Benavides, crop insurance agent and manager of the crop insurance department with Lloyd’s Insurance and Real Estate in Walla Walla.

“I’ve never seen a year like this before,” Benavides said in a Wednesday, July 21, interview. “We have a lot more claims than we normally have. I anticipate almost every policy having a claim before this is over.”

Wheat crops appear to have experienced some of the most severe impacts of the drought. Yields are down an average of around 30-35%, said Chris Peha, CEO at Northwest Grain Growers, a farmer-owned cooperative based Walla Walla.

Emry Dinman can be reached at emrydinman@wwub.com or 425-941-5829.

Reporter covering agriculture, Walla Walla city and county government, and other topics.

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