U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Types of Assistance Available from USDA

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides many types of assistance to farmers and other rural residents, as the result of natural disasters such as drought, fire, flood, storm, earthquake, hurricane, tornado, and volcanic eruption. There is also assistance available to producers who suffer losses as a result of crop or livestock disease or pest infestation.

Depending on the nature and severity of a natural disaster, the emergency preparedness staff will provide the necessary liaison and coordination required between USDA agencies and other Federal departments and agencies, including FEMA.

Level of disaster

The type of assistance depends on the level of the disaster. Farmers who have suffered a sudden major disaster or are threatened with one may want to contact the local office of one or more USDA agencies to learn whether they can get special help. In some instances, assistance can be provided only after the Secretary of Agriculture has issued a determination of a natural disaster for an entire county (including a parish and borough). The levels of assistance are as follows:

  • Agency level: A direct request from a State Governor or Indian Tribal Council may result in certain kinds of assistance from USDA agencies.
  • Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator level: The FSA Administrator's Physical Loss Notification is initiated by the FSA County Executive Director and recommended by the FSA State Executive Director (SED) to the FSA Administrator. The Administrator can designate counties as disaster areas and provide emergency (EM) loan assistance for physical losses only.
  • Secretarial level: At the request of a State Governor or Indian Tribal Council, the Secretary of Agriculture can designate counties as disaster areas and provide certain USDA disaster assistance.
  • Presidential level: At the request of a State Governor, the President can declare a state* to be a major disaster area under the terms of the "Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act". The Stafford Act is administered by FEMA, which, through the National Response Framework, may task the USDA to respond to agriculture-related needs.

(*State includes any state of the United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, or the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, unless otherwise designated.)

Disaster assistance

Depending on the level and type of a natural disaster, USDA agencies can provide the following:

  • Emergency food assistance, through the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).
  • Certain kinds of livestock feed assistance from the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) through the FSA.
  • Help in restoring damaged eligible land, through the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
  • Low-interest loans to farmers, through the FSA.
  • Low-interest loans to rural residents in need of housing, or, e.g., to rural communities, businesses, and nonprofit corporations in need of public facilities, utilities, or economic development, through the Rural Development mission area agencies: Rural Business Service (RBS), Rural Housing Service (RHS), or Rural Utilities Service (RUS).
  • Indemnity payments to farmers for crop losses covered by insurance, through the Risk Management Agency (RMA).
  • Payment to producers for losses of crops not insurable under catastrophic risk protection through the FSA.
  • Technical information and assistance to farmers and others in developing plans to reduce disaster effects, and in returning to normal after a disaster, through the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES), in cooperation with the state Cooperative Extension Service (CES) and state land-grant universities.
  • Prevention, control, and eradication of plant and livestock diseases and insect infestations, through the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
  • Assistance in controlling fires that threaten to spread from nearby croplands onto national forests and fire protection in and management of national forests, through the Forest Service (FS).
  • Information on the safe handling and use of meat and poultry, through the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Consumers may call 1-800-535-4555. If calling within the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area, call (202) 720-3333.

Humane care of animals

APHIS administers two laws that seek to ensure the humane handling of animals: the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and the Horse Protection Act (HPA).