New in the 2008 farm bill is the creation of permanent disaster relief programs. In the past whenever a widespread natural disaster occurred, producers had to wait for Congress to vote on implementing a disaster relief program. Not so anymore.

“A few key members of Congress pushed hard and were successful in including permanent disaster assistance programs in the 2008 farm bill,” says Henry English, director of the Small Farm Program at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

The most recent disaster bills had a difficult time getting through Congress, as President Bush insisted on budget offsets to pay for the program.

The 2008 act requires producers who want to participate in the new disaster programs to have crop insurance or non-insured crop disaster assistance (NAP). Since the act came after the Feb. 28 deadline to purchase NAP or crop insurance, producers without it can request a waiver and pay a “buy-in” fee to be eligible for the new disaster assistance programs, says English.

And, farmers who meet the definition of “socially disadvantaged, limited resource” or “beginning farmer or rancher” are not required to pay the buy-in fee, he says.

Every producer whose crops, including grazing lands, are not fully covered by crop insurance or NAP may take advantage of this one-time opportunity. The buy-in fee is due by Sept. 16, and those without 2008 catastrophic risk protection (CAT) or NAP coverage who do not buy-in will not be eligible for any disaster assistance should one occur in 2008.

The buy-in fee for 2008 eligibility for either the catastrophic risk protection insurance CAT or NAP is $100 per crop, but not more than $300 per producer per county or $900 total for all counties minus any previously paid CAT or NAP fees.

A producer can contact his local Farm Service Agency county office to fill out an application for a waiver and pay the buy-in fee. Before paying, English advises small, limited resource and beginning farmers and ranchers to verify their status. Income levels and criteria vary from county to county.

Even if small, limited resource and beginning farmers and ranchers may be exempt from the fees, they must still sign up for CAT or NAP to be eligible for participation in 2008 disaster assistance programs, says English.

Payment of the buy-in fee allows producers to be eligible for benefits from a fleet of disaster assistance programs created by the 2008 farm bill. The largest disaster programs assistance program are the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program, which covers program crops such as wheat, rice, cotton and vegetable crops and the Livestock Disaster Program which covers grazing losses because of drought.

For more information on the provisions of the recently enacted 2008 farm bill, growers in Arkansas can contact one of the following UAPB Extension associates: Precious Williams (870) 774-0446 — Clark, Columbia, Nevada, Ouachita and Sevier counties; Arlanda Jacobs (870) 572-2966 — Lee, Phillips, St. Francis, Arkansas and Monroe counties; Janet Breckenridge (870) 489-2336 — Chicot, Drew, Ashley and Desha counties; Kandi Williams (870) 774-0446 — Howard, Little River, Miller, Hempstead and Lafayette counties; Carolyn Prowell (870) 489-5585 — St. Francis, Crittenden, Woodruff and Cross counties; Stephan Walker (870) 575-7237 — Jefferson, Desha, Lincoln and Pulaski counties. Arkansans elsewhere can contact English at (870) 575-7246.