D.C. Watch: USDA warned about Hurricane Sandy destruction

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Even USDA mobilized ahead of Hurricane Sandy to issue a host of press releases on tips for protecting livestock and pets to states in the path of the vicious storm.

While damage reports already top $20 billion, we’ve yet to learn of the extent of losses in livestock and poultry in the storm that has now pummeled the NE quadrant of the entire country and not just the northeastern coast. Loss of power can be lethal for livestock in confinement buildings dependent on fan ventilation, for example. Then there’s the likelihood of many roof collapses among confined swine, broiler and turkey operations where as much as two feet of heavy, wet snow fell as far west as Indiana and as far south as Tennessee, Kentucky and the Carolinas.

Food safety was another topic of USDA warnings ahead of the storm’s arrival. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) urged people in the storm’s path to take steps early to ensure access to safe food that wouldn’t require refrigeration and was stored in water-tight containers. Grocery stores did indeed experience a “run” on supplies ahead of the storm as folks were reminded that even stores NOT flooded may have to close due to power outages.

Those who waited too long to leave flooded neighborhoods without power were often startled to learn they couldn’t even fill cars with gas because pumps wouldn’t run without electricity.

About 2,000 farmers in 22 states have received an average of $13,500 in drought aid from USDA’s special drought relief program this summer. The grants were made through USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) for farmers and ranchers to make various conservation improvements that “spur recovery and ensure lands are more drought resistant in the future” according to the agency. Producers interested in learning more are encouraged to visit their local NRCS office or go to www.nrcs.usda.gov.

The summer drought has spurred higher farm lending activity at commercial banks, according to the latest Federal Reserve System Agricultural Finance Databook. It shows farm operating loans rose at their fastest pace in five years in the second quarter and has continued through 3rd quarter as well. Lending to livestock operations jumped as feed costs spiked and herd liquidations boosted loans for feeder cattle. Higher fuel costs to power irrigation systems and harvest crops also increased lending to crop producers. In other findings of the report:

  • Drought conditions had little impact on farmland markets, however. Many agricultural bankers had expected farmland values to stabilize until after harvest, then possibly soften as more farms would be put up for auction. Instead the uptrend in values continued right through the summer drought. The strongest farmland value gains emerged in the central Plains, where irrigation is prevalent, and the northern Plains, where land lease revenues from mineral rights continue to climb.
  • Bankers aren’t worried about farm financial health. Flush with deposits, bankers report having ample funds to meet additional loan demand. Higher farm loan volumes helped lift loan-to-deposit ratios off recent lows, and competition among agricultural lenders for qualified borrowers remains heated. Farm loan delinquency rates actually declined further despite the drought, and bankers expect loan repayment rates to remain solid as high crop prices compensate for lower yields and crop insurance payments support farm income.

Public spotlight to be put on animal welfare violators as deterrent: USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has launched an effort to move more swiftly and consistently to

  1. take enforcement action in response to animal welfare violations and
  2. to make its actions more transparent and accessible to the public in response to violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and Horse Protection Act (HPA).

For more information, go to www.aphis.usda.gov.

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