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Iowa getting USDA funds to repair lands damaged by 2011 disasters

Dave DeWitte, CR Gazette –

Iowa was among 33 states awarded additional USDA disaster assistance Wednesday to help restore lands damaged by widespread natural disasters in 2011.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced $308 million in funding from three programs to help restore damaged farmland, forests, fences and stream banks.

Iowa suffered last year from prolonged flooding along the Missouri River in western Iowa. An unusually powerful and widespread wind storm called a derecho struck parts of central and eastern Iowa. Serious flooding ocurred along parts of the Mississippi River, although it was less extensive and of shorter duration than the Missouri River floods.

A total of $5.87 million was awarded for programs in Iowa. The largest amounts of aid went to Utah and Missouri, which together accounted for more than one-third of the $308 million total.

The funds will help with similar disasters in other states, and in western states will aid with recovery from 2011 wildfires and drought.

Most of the money $215.7 million — will come from the Emergency Watershed Protection program of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Vilsack said the projects will include removing debris from waterways, protecting eroded banks on waterways, seeding damaged areas, and even buying flood plain easements.

The funds will be awarded to local contractors, Vilsack said, spurring job creation.

The funds also will include $80 million from the Farm Service Agency’s Emergency Conservation Program to remove debris, restore livestock fences, and to grade and shape land damaged by erosion, and to provide water for livestock during drought.

The Farm Service Agency’s Emergency Forest Restoration Program will provide $12 million to owners of private forest land to carry out emergency restoratin measures.

Vilsack said the unusual scope of natural disaster damage in 2011 reinforced the need for agriculture to have a strong “safety net.” He said the USDA’s crop insurance has paid out about $17.2 billion in crop insurance indemnities to more than 325,000 farmers in the past three years.

The USDA’s conservation agencies enrolled a record number of acres of private lands in conservation programs in 2011, Vilsack said, working with more than 500,000 farmers and ranchers.

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