MINBURN – Farmers who suffered market losses as a result of the August 2020 derecho that damaged millions of acres of crops and destroyed grain bins and other buildings can apply for funds through the $10 billion Emergency Relief Program, created to help farmers affected by natural disasters, U.S. Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday.

Vilsack, who served as Iowa governor from 1999 to 2007, also warned that climate challenges facing U.S. farmers will only worsen, and he called for more flexibility in disaster programs to help them.

“We’re going to see stronger storms, more extensive damage and more expensive storms, and as we begin the process of thinking about the next [farm bill] we need to think about the flexibility in our disaster programs that will allow us to meet the demand and meet the circumstances of the situation,” he said.

Vilsack spoke during a visit to the Nelson family farm about 33 miles northwest of Des Moines near Minburn in Dallas County. Owner Chris Nelson said his cornfields were flattened in the Aug. 10, 2020, derecho, and the metal grain bins at the nearby Heartland Cooperative were destroyed.

The stop came a day after Vilsack visited Ely, Iowa, near Cedar Rapids, where he announced a $10 million initiative to fund innovation that would turn ag waste byproducts into other products for consumers.

On Wednesday, Vilsack, who was joined by U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, said thousands of farmers like Nelson and his family can benefit from the Emergency Relief Program, which was set into law in 2021 and covers losses suffered in 2020 and 2021.

He said more than 120,000 farmers nationwide have received $4 billion since the application system began on May 16. Of that, $270 million has gone to about 12,500 Iowa farm families, Vilsack said as he spoke under shade trees in 90-degree temperatures with farm fields and a John Deere tractor as a backdrop.

The former Iowa governor said the purpose for his visit was to ensure that farmers sign up for the program.

The deadline to submit an application for assistance is July 22, Vilsack said.

The program offsets losses not covered by crop insurance, but for those who didn’t have crop insurance or had minimal losses, help is coming, too, he said.

“We’re going to have a second sign-up period later this summer for … approximately 9,000 farmers nationwide who had covered losses in 2020 and 2021, and about 10,000 producers who didn’t have coverage at all but had some limited amount of damage. They too will be eligible under this portion of the Emergency Relief Program,” Vilsack said.

Another $750 million has been set aside for producers who lost livestock, he said.

After the event, Vilsack sat down with the Business Record for a conversation about a variety of issues, ranging from help for farmers facing economic uncertainty to food insecurity and the baby formula shortage.

Continue reading on Business Record.com (Insider)

Photo above: U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, right, speaks with Chris Nelson on Wednesday at Nelson’s farm near Minburn where Vilsack talked about Emergency Relief Program funds available to help farmers who suffered losses from natural disasters. Photo by Michael Crumb