Disaster-assistance payments coming, but they've shrunk

After months of delay, disaster-assistance payments for non-insurable crops, like alfalfa, are being processed for local farmers.

But each payment will be reduced by 7 percent because of federal budget cuts, which also slowed payments across the U.S.

Farmers in Montezuma, Dolores and San Miguel counties were hit hard by summer drought and then by too much rain late in the season.

The local Farm Service Agency has issued $610,000 in disaster assistance to farmers in the counties through the federal Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, said Paul White, the county executive director for the agency. The aid could hit $1 million dollars for the 2013 harvest season, White said.

"We're coming with them as fast as we can," White said of the payments.

The payments are owed to farmers who purchased the optional disaster insurance from the federal government. Crops eligible for this program include alfalfa and beans, among others. Farmers are eligible for insurance when they lose more than 50 percent of their average yield. Only then will payments kick in to cover 50 percent of the rest of their losses. A local board staffed by farmers and ranchers, White said, must review the payments.

The payments were put on hold from October through Jan. 15 because of federal budget cuts, said Leland Swenson, the Colorado executive director for the Farm Service Agency. These mandatory sequester cuts reduced every federal agency's budget by 10 percent, almost across the board.

The payments were delayed, in part, because the agency did not have the software available to process disaster payments to include the mandatory cuts, Swenson said. Starting Jan. 15, all payments were cut 7.2 percent, as will all payments for this harvest season.

The Farm Bill that President Barack Obama is set to sign on Friday includes additional disaster assistance, but it is unclear how it will be administered, Swenson said. But it would not impact the current NAP payments.

The USDA is responsible for writing the rules and regulations required for local officials to administer the law, and that can take six to 18 months depending on the issue, said Brent Boydston, vice president of public policy for the Colorado Farm Bureau.

Bob Neely farms alfalfa near Pleasant View and has been waiting for his NAP payment for months to help cover expenses. He is looking for the Farm Bill to give the USDA direction.

"I'm glad they got it done, and that way they know what to do now," he said.