USDA Farm Service Agency announces Tree Assistance Program sign-up

Can I use the Tree Assistance Program (TAP) for my rodent-damaged fruit trees?

With the new Farm Bill, the USDA Michigan Farm Service Agency (FSA) has announced that orchardists and nursery tree growers who experienced losses from natural disasters that occurred on or after Oct. 1, 2011, can sign up for the Tree Assistance Program (TAP) beginning Tuesday, April 15, 2014. TAP was authorized by the Agricultural Act of 2014 as a permanent disaster program. You can read the TAP press release online for more information.

The high winter snow accumulation and little open ground for good predation has forced mice and rabbits to eat the exposed bark of many fruit trees because no other food was available. Many reports are coming in from all of Michigan’s fruit growing regions of high levels of rodent damage to tree fruits. Many growers are asking if TAP can be used to cover these tree losses. The short answer today is no. According to the TAP press release, “TAP provides financial assistance to qualifying orchardists and nursery tree growers to replant or rehabilitate eligible trees, bushes and vines damaged by natural disasters.”

The more complicated answer is that the final answer is not in yet. The heavy snowfall can be viewed as a natural disaster that precipitated the rodent damage. Different groups and agencies are working on this issue. There could be a change in how a long-term snowpack is viewed.

In the meantime, if you have tree losses or expect you might, you should contact your local FSA office to report it so it is documented. Make the effort even if they tell you that the program does not cover rodent damage. Multiple reports will give the FSA a good picture of the extent of the problem more than hearing that a lot of growers say there is damage.

Either way, there are things you should do to document the damage. Michigan State University Extension advises growers to take pictures and make notes with dates documenting the damage. To qualify for TAP, orchardists must suffer a qualifying tree, bush or vine loss in excess of 15 percent mortality from an eligible natural disaster.

For more information, producers are encouraged to review the 2014 Farm Bill fact sheet and the TAP fact sheet, or contact a local FSA county office or USDA Service Center.

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