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Drought, wildfire, hail: is there a USDA Disaster Assistance Program to help your farm or ranch?

U.S. Drought Monitor Map, September 10, 2018


Every year, natural events, from drought and wildfires to hurricanes and hail, impact the businesses of farmers and ranchers across the country. Currently, the Four Corners region of the U.S. is experiencing exceptional drought (the worst category!) and most of the Southwest is experiencing some level of drought or dry conditions. In addition to a very dry summer, California is in the midst of its largest wildfire in recorded history, and the state is projected to have more frequent and larger fires in the coming years.

Wildfires cost the California economy over $85 billion in losses last year, and the fires this year are threatening farms, vineyards, and livestock. Many of these producers already operate on small profit margins, and damages and setbacks from severe weather events can be devastating for them. Young farmers and ranchers, often carrying debt from student loans and lacking crop insurance, are at even greater financial risk from severe weather. And as climate change intensifies, these events are becoming more frequent and more intense.

Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) does have programs to provide assistance if crops or livestock are damaged or lost from weather events like droughts or floods. Programs like USDA’s Risk Management Agency’s Crop Insurance Program and the Farm Service Agency’s Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP),  can help farmers and ranchers plan for the possibility of future losses from natural disasters.

There are also less commonly known options available to help producers once a disaster has already caused damage on a farm or ranch. USDA just announced one such program, the 2017 Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity program (2017 WHIP). 2017 WHIP is a pool of over $2 billion to help cover production losses for farmers from wildfires and hurricanes in 2017. The program covers at least nine states and territories, along with any county that was given either a Presidential Emergency Disaster Declaration or Secretarial Disaster Designation during 2017 because of a wildfire or hurricane. The financial compensation ranges from 60 to 95 percent of damages or repair costs, depending on the level of crop insurance coverage a farmer has purchased. Additionally, you do not need to have been previously covered under crop insurance to be eligible for funding through 2017 WHIP.

2017 WHIP is just one of many available programs to help farmers and ranchers get their businesses back up and running at full capacity after a major blow from extreme weather and other natural disasters. Other programs, like the Livestock Indemnity Program, the Livestock Forestry Program, and the Tree Assistance Program, can also help with repairs, replanting, conservation improvements for prevention, and production losses. And these programs can and do work for young farmers, too! Ea’mon O’Toole, a young cattle rancher from Wyoming, has  used the Livestock Indemnity Program after losing cattle in a storm.


“…when you’re out in the big range those kind of programs really can help if you have a bad storm. Or, if some sort of natural disaster comes through and wipes out several hundred or thousand of your herd.”


If you’re experiencing wildfires, drought, hurricane, or tornado damage this season, check out  some of these programs to help cover the losses and damages you might suffer. Get in touch with your local USDA office to find out what disaster assistance is available in your area. You can find your local office at  

Of course, we know that disaster assistance is not enough. NYFC is working to make sure farmers have a seat at the table to develop the policies and programs that help mitigate the impacts of climate change and allow farmers to build climate resilience.



The USDA Disaster Assistance Discovery Tool  walks you through a set of questions based on your location, the types of farm products damaged, and the cause(s) of damage, and leads you to a personalized list of the programs for which you might be eligible.

For a general  list of disaster relief programs with brief descriptions of each, see the list of USDA Disaster Assistance Programs.

Also, check out the Navigating Disaster Assistance Resource published by Farmers Legal Action Group (FLAG) and FarmAid in 2017 with information about USDA disaster programs, application periods, and payments. While this particular resource refers to damage caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, the publication offers a relevant and helpful how-to guide on using disaster programs.

The Young Farmers Podcast Episode 10: OG Weather Nerds

It’s hard to imagine anyone thinking more about the weather than farmers, but then again, there’s Chief Meteorologist Mark Brusberg of USDA’s agricultural weather and assessments group. This week, Lindsey talks with Mark about the ways that drought, extreme weather, and the changing climate are impacting farmers and agricultural production globally and here at home. Mark also talks about “the blob,” building farm weather resilience, and how farmers can keep track of it all.

The Young Farmers Podcast Episode 11: “Water is scarce, water is rare.”

Mike Nolan, a young farmer in Mancos, Colorado, gives an insider perspective on farming in extreme weather conditions, building resilience, and shares how an innovative conservation policy idea that started over beers and ended up in the Senate farm bill. What is the path forward for farmers in the arid West?

The Rocky Mountain Farmers Union “Drought Diaries” series shares the stories of farmers struggling, and adapting, to extreme drought in the arid west.
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