By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor
OMAHA (DTN) -- USDA on Tuesday announced $6 million in conservation program funds has been set aside specifically for farmers and ranchers hit by wildfires in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
The $6 million comes from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The funding can be used by farmers and ranchers to pay for grazing lands, rebuild fences and protect damaged watersheds.
"I am pleased USDA has acted swiftly to aid producers recovering from the largest wildfire in state history," said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. "For many Kansans, the impacts are devastating because the fires not only consumed livestock, grazing lands, and fencing -- but in some cases, homes, machinery, and equipment, too."
Roberts said, "We are still learning lessons from the response to the Anderson Creek fires from last year that can be applied to this response and recovery effort."
There are few hard numbers on the total losses from the wildfires, some of which continue to break out in parts of the Southern Plains.
Wildfires in Texas caused at least $21 million in damage, according to Texas A&M economist Steve Amosson, who gave that figure to the San Antonio Express News.
According to the Texas Animal Health Commission, roughly 2,500 cattle and 1,900 hogs were killed in the fires in that state.
"We have seen the devastating effects of these wildfires on agricultural operations, and the funding announced today can help communities of farmers and ranchers start the process of recovery," said Acting Deputy Agriculture Secretary Michael Young. "USDA is here to offer assistance, and I encourage producers who experienced losses to take full advantage of our financial and technical assistance to aid in their recovery efforts and alleviate part of the financial burden caused by these tragic events."
DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson said rain in the affected areas will vary over the next week or so. Southern Plains rain will occur in the next week, but will be quite varied in the next week and a half. Western and southern Kansas should see light moisture this week of 0.10 to 0.40 inch, Anderson said. The lightest amounts will be in the southwest around Dodge City and Garden City. Next week brings a couple additional systems with total precipitation in the March 26-April 5 time frame of 1 to 1.5 inches, he said.
Oklahoma is expected to see lighter precipitation with 0.25 to 0.40 inch this week and up to a half-inch next week in the Panhandle, with maybe up to an inch in north-central areas, Anderson said.
Texas Panhandle locations are lightest on precipitation, Anderson said. The northern Panhandle may get 0.20 to 0.30 inch this week and up to a half-inch next week. The southern Panhandle, around Lubbock, is only in line for about 0.20 inch this week and another 0.10 inch next week, he said.
EQIP, administered by USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service, is a conservation program that provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers to help plan and implement conservation practices that address priority local and state resource concerns.
Farmers and ranchers affected by the disaster should also check with the local Farm Service Agency office about disaster programs.
Producers in the affected counties are encouraged to check with their local NRCS service centers for additional information. Step-by-step assistance can be found at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/….
Oklahoma has some information about providing relief for the northwest Oklahoma fires that affected both Oklahoma and Kansas. http://www.oda.state.ok.us/…
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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