By Janan Lenzy, NFU Intern

The nursery tree and greenhouse industry is rapidly growing and contributing to the agricultural economy. However, climate change does not discriminate – irregular and extreme weather events interfere with anticipated growing seasons and production yields for essentially all agricultural sectors. When such events occur, farmers and ranchers largely rely on government-run disaster programs to withstand associated income losses.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) offers programs such as the Livestock Forage Program (LFP), the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), and the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP) that provide financial support to animal-based producers who have encountered unexpected damages and costs due to natural disasters. However, FSA programs not only support animal and livestock producers, but specialty crop producers too. FSA’s Tree Assistance Program (TAP) offers payments to eligible nursery tree growers and orchardists whose operations have been imperiled by inclement weather. The payments are intended to help producers replant or rehabilitate impaired trees, bushes, and vines.

Eligible plants include stands of “ornamental, fruit, nut, and Christmas trees produced for commercial purposes,” with the exception of pulp and timber products, that have obtained at least 15 percent of apparent and unavoidable mortality loss. Plant losses related to diseases or infestations may require further investigation by FSA agents and hired experts to determine eligibility. Currently, yellow dragon disease or citrus greening is the only disease covered under TAP in Florida. Producers requesting TAP payments are expected to have owned the affected plants prior to the weather event, but not necessarily the land on which the plants were grown. Specific details regarding eligibility for TAP payments can be found here.

TAP reimburses applicants for up to 65 percent of the accumulated cost of restoring or repairing impacted plants. Claims are to be filed no later than 90 days after plants appear to be damaged. The 2014 Farm Bill limits TAP payments to 500 acres or fewer per producer per year.

Growers are discouraged to depend solely on TAP to cover losses, and should be mindful of the time-consuming application process. Instead, precautions and proper management techniques should be implemented to prepare operations to withstand natural disasters and climate change. When possible, growers should maneuver mobile plants to indoor or sheltered locations to protect them from forecasted disasters. Additionally, they should provide additional support, such as stakes or posts, for plants that are unable to be transported. Farmers can reduce further vulnerability to negative effects of climate change by strengthening root systems and soil health.

Click here to review the TAP payment application online (Form CCC 899). Click here to locate a Farm Service Agency (FSA) office near you and request Form CCC 899. Documents that provide evidence to claims need to accompany the application during submission.

Have you utilized TAP payments? How was your experience? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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