The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is providing $10.9 million in technical and financial assistance to help farmers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands repair damage and rebuild following hurricanes Irma and María, the agency announced.
This investment through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, a Farm Bill conservation program, is one more option available through USDA to aid with recovery, the agency stated.
“USDA remains committed to helping the people of Puerto Rican agriculture with every means at our disposal,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said. “With this funding, we can assist local farmers in repairing damages to their land and existing conservation practices caused by Hurricanes Irma and María.”
“Through EQIP, we co-invest with farmers to repair and prevent soil erosion, address flooding and other water quality issues, as well as any other resource concerns resulting from high rainfall events and flooding,” Perdue said.
EQIP funding for emergency assistance
To expedite disaster recovery, NRCS is issuing waivers allowing farmers to receive payment and begin implementing key conservation practices prior to contract approval.
Practices can include the disposal of dead livestock, the construction of animal mortality facilities, replacement of roofs and covers on agricultural buildings and debris removal. Participants are asked to file an EQIP application and a waiver to start implementing a practice.
Meanwhile, farmers who have worked with NRCS previously are also eligible to get assistance to implement new conservation practices or repair failed practices.
NRCS accepts EQIP applications year-round in a continuous signup. But landowners must submit their applications by Jan. 19 to be considered for this disaster recovery funding.
Farmers and ranchers should visit with their local USDA service center to apply, the agency said.
Caribbean NRCS office listings and phone numbers can be found at www.pr.nrcs.usda.gov. Farmers may also call the Caribbean Area Disaster Recovery Bilingual Hotline at 787-303-0341.
Disaster recovery assistance for Caribbean communities
In addition to assistance to agricultural producers, NRCS is helping local communities repair dams and infrastructure impacted by the hurricanes. NRCS is providing $1.75 million to local governments and entities through the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program to restore damaged and destroyed infrastructure.
While EWP generally can pay up to 75 percent of the cost of emergency measures, in both Puerto Rico and the USVI, President Trump authorized 100 percent federal cost for debris removal and emergency protective measures until May 2018.
Four NRCS teams spent the last five weeks in the Caribbean region conducting damage survey assessments to determine potential sites and sponsors for EWP projects. Through the program, NRCS works with local government entities in impacted areas to remove debris, stabilize streambanks and fix water control structures, among other practices.