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Source: United States House of Representatives – Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-NM)

October 13, 2020

SANTA FE Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), along with U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representatives Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) and Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.), called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide robust oversight of the New Mexico Farm Service Agency’s (NM FSA) management of the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) program. In a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, the members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation raised concerns about NM FSA’s actions to limit Rio Arriba farmers and ranchers’ access to disaster assistance.

In August, the USDA National Appeals Division affirmed recent decisions that found that FSA erred by improperly adjusting county expected yields retroactively to reduce payouts for disaster relief. Instead of rectifying its error and paying the local farmers and ranchers what they were promised, the agency has taken further steps to reduce relief by deeming drought conditions on farms and ranches irrigated by acequias ineligible under NAP. These decisions shortchange New Mexico’s farmers who have sustainably grown crops and managed water via acequias for centuries.  

“New Mexico farmers and ranchers are facing a difficult year due to COVID-19 and drought conditions across the state. Most of the state has been designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as experiencing either severe or extreme drought. Given these circumstances, it is particularly concerning that New Mexico FSA has been communicating to farmers and ranchers that drought is not an eligible cause of loss on irrigated lands for disaster assistance programs like NAP,” wrote the Members of Congress.

“As you are aware, New Mexico FSA’s mismanagement of the NAP program in recent years was the subject of a USDA National Appeals Division (NAD) Director Review Determination on August 4, 2020, in which NAD Director Frank Wood reminded FSA that it ‘must comply with its regulations and the procedures specified in its handbook

Provisions.’ We are deeply concerned that New Mexico FSA appears to be circumventing its own rules at the expense of New Mexico’s farmers and ranchers…We respectfully request that you clarify FSA’s position on drought as a cause of loss on acequia irrigated lands and immediately provide oversight over NM FSA’s mismanagement of the NAP program,” they continued.

Full text of the letter is available here.

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