Oct 17 2022
Nebraska’s family farmers and ranchers have long had to grapple with the effects of natural disasters and extreme weather. Droughts, flooding, hail, wildfires – all of these events can heavily impact farmland, grazing areas, and livestock.
Wildfires can be particularly devastating when drought conditions are widespread and wind speeds are high.
Most recently, portions of western Nebraska had to contend with the Bovee Fire. This was a fierce, fast-moving wildfire that burned an estimated 18,930 acres. Tragically, a Nebraska firefighter lost his life while bravely fighting the fire. The fire also destroyed the state 4-H camp, as well as a lookout tower. My prayers remain with the communities and ranch families impacted by the Bovee Fire as they begin the difficult road to recovery.
Nebraskans are remarkably resilient in the face of this kind of adversity. We know how to come together, help one another, and rebuild.
There is, however, still an important role the federal government can and should play to support recovery efforts after disasters to ensure folks can get back on their feet.
For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a variety of programs in place to assist agricultural producers who have been hurt by disasters. You can review the full list of assistance programs here.
I recently introduced bipartisan legislation to improve two of these programs – the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) and the Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP). Both of these initiatives are administered by the USDA to ensure producers have the financial resources they need to repair farmland or forests damaged by natural disasters.
The ECP and EFRP, however, are often slow to respond to disasters. In fact, I’ve heard directly from Nebraska farmers and ranchers about how it can be challenging to utilize these programs in a timely fashion. Excessive paperwork, uncertainty over eligibility or the total amount of assistance, and significant delays in receiving the relief – these are all issues individuals have encountered when trying to navigate the ECP and EFRP. For many producers, such complications force them to delay repair work, or risk beginning the recovery process without a guarantee of federal help.
That’s just not fair. The last thing people who’ve been hurt by disasters need is uncertainty and red tape.
My bill would specifically help to address this by giving producers the option to receive help in the form of an up-front cost-share. By expediting at least some relief from the ECP and EFRP, family farmers and ranchers in dire need could begin the critical work of restoring their property. That’s important because when agriculture is your livelihood, waiting around to get your land back to productive levels isn’t really an option.
The legislation would also expand eligibility for relief from wildfire damage. Currently, until the cause of a wildfire is determined to be a natural one, producers are prevented from getting any disaster assistance. Additionally, farmers and ranchers cannot access relief if the damage to their property is from a wildfire caused by out-of-control prescribed burns or other federal actions.
Again – these types of restrictions are unfair to producers in need. My bill would reframe eligibility to also include any wildfire that is spread due to natural causes, such as high winds or drought, as well as wildfires caused by the government.
These are common sense, bipartisan reforms that will directly help family farmers and ranchers. I am hopeful that more of my Senate colleagues will join us in supporting this important legislation. In the meantime, as our state continues to navigate the challenges of drought and extreme weather, please reach out if you are uncertain what relief programs may be available to you. My office is ready to assist farmers and ranchers working with federal agencies in any way we can.
Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.
Word count: 623