USDA Needs Better Programs to Help Farmers in Western Drought

The secretary added that states such as California, Arizona and Utah are the driest they have been on record, and Nevada is facing the second driest the state has seen.

“At the end of the day, our systems really are not designed for the long-term drought situation that we’re looking at,” Vilsack said.

He added, “So these are serious issues that impact not just agriculture, but they impact virtually every aspect of an economy in the western part of the U.S. and that’s why it’s important for us to get this climate thing right and to get serious about it and get serious about it very quickly.”

Congress has yet to authorize USDA to pay farmers for disaster losses last year, though the California Farm Bureau states wildfires in that state alone cost $560 million in damage. Currently the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP-Plus) only pays on 2018 and 2019 natural disasters. A lobbyist for the California Farm Bureau told DTN that lawmakers from western states have proposed to reauthorize WHIP-Plus, but also consider changes because of payment limits on the program.

Earlier this month, a coalition of western farmers, ranchers and businesses representing 220 organizations in 15 states also sent letters to Congress calling for lawmakers to deal with the shortcomings and aging water infrastructure. The coalition warned that changing hydrological conditions and an expanding population in the West raise serious concerns about the future viability of the nation’s water infrastructure.

The coalition called for roughly $29 billion to address federal and state water projects in western states across an array of agencies, including USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Army Corps of Engineers. The infrastructure package agreed to by a bipartisan group of senators includes $5 billion for western water storage expansion, but the package also includes another $55 billion for community water project needs.

Chris Clayton can be reached at

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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