CDA offers tips to help ag producers affected by Marshall Fire

News reports are calling the Dec. 30 Marshall Fire in Colorado one for the record books. It might just eclipse every other fire in Colorado history. Damages are expected to reach $850 million by the time it’s all over.

Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg said the fire destroyed more than 1,000 homes and businesses in Boulder County when it burned 6,000 acres.

“This region also includes many small operations, livestock facilities, and open space that was part of our landowner community in Boulder County,” she said.

The Colorado Department of Agriculture, in nearby Broomfield, Colorado, was evacuated but did not receive any damage to its office space. The department has been activated in a support capacity in response to the fire and Greenberg said they’re fielding daily calls about recovery for the area.

“Officials are still assessing the total extent of the damage from the fire, especially as it pertains to livestock and landowner assets,” she said. “We’ll know more over time.”

Greenberg was joined by Farm Service Agency Colorado Executive Director Kent Peppler; FSA Administrator Zach Ducheneaux; Adrian Card, Boulder County Extension agent and Regan Adams, CSU veterinary Extension specialist and disaster preparation and recovery expert, to answer calls on the webinar, Jan. 11.

Peppler said the main goal of FSA, both nationally and in Colorado, is to assess damages and reach out to producers to see what can be done for them.

“We work with an awful lot of people and the state staff and the local staff worked together to make sure that we were coordinated in our outreach program and provided the necessary support needed for the program implementation,” he said.

FSA will be conducting an emergency board meeting that includes a number of partners with federal and state agencies to review loss assessments once they’re completed.

“We continue to be in touch with all of our stakeholders and partners, such as Commissioner Greenberg, Colorado Department of Ag and CSU Extension to ensure that we’re communicating and sharing information on a coordinated response,” Peppler said.

Loss assessments will assist FSA in determining the extent of the damage and focus on delivering specific programs targeted to those specific losses. According to Peppler, it’s important for all producers to report any losses to FSA. To report losses from the Marshall Fire contact Jonathan Weishaar in Larimer and Boulder County offices at 970-295-5665.

“Our outreach efforts to producers and anybody else that we can help really will continue and we sure want to ensure that we’re getting the information to people for available programs,” he said.

The Colorado FSA staff will continue to document losses, and help producers submit applications with the programs they do qualify for.

Ducheneaux is no stranger to disaster and related his experience with winter storm Atlas that came through his home state of South Dakota during 2013 and dumped nearly two dozen inches of snow, devastating the agricultural community. He worked on the Intertribal Agricultural Council in the state and during this time, the government was shut down and all they could do was answer phones and put people at ease.

“I thought it was the least we could do to reach out to our friend Commissioner Greenberg, and see if there’s any opportunity for us to really connect more meaningfully, more personally with the producers after the smoke cleared a little bit,” he said.

Agriculture is sometimes an afterthought in a disaster like the Marshall Fire, especially when there’s a loss of human life and such devastating damage to property.

“But we wanted to make sure we had a chance to reach out to those who may be engaged in some level of ag and production at that county level and let them know that we have some standing programs that are designed to help in situations like this,” he said.

Prior to the 2008 and 2012 farm bills, there really weren’t any standing disaster programs. Ducheneaux said it would “almost literally” take an act of Congress to get programs and aid authorized. At that time applications were collected through the whole year, batch them at the beginning of the next year and make payments based on how far the money could be divided.

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“We’re not in that reality now, but it’s important to note that these standing disaster programs are relatively new in the realm of federal assistance that the Farm Service Agency gets to deliver,” he said. “So they may not be the perfect fit for the production that’s happening there.”

Ducheneaux wants to stress that even if a producer doesn’t feel as though they’re eligible, to still turn in an application because “this administration is interested in finding out where the gaps still exist in our programs and services so that we could more equitably distribute those programs and services as authorized by Congress.”

“If you don’t take anything away from my conversation today, turn in an application, let us know what your losses are so that we can ensure that even if we would have to deny your participation, we can look towards the future and build programs that fit,” he said.

Ducheneaux said he’s heard there are many horse and equine industry enthusiasts in or near the fire area.

“We’re pushing the boundaries and trying to get more inclusion for horse folks in our programs,” he said. “In my rationale, is if we can cover sport fish, and Christmas trees and ornamental flowers and ornamental fish, there’s no reason that we can’t help folks that have horses as a business where they’re doing some value added agriculture on their soil.”

For those who lost livestock, the Livestock Indemnity Program helps cover up to 75% of the fair market livestock that are lost.

“It’s important that producers have documentation or herd records to help us quantify that loss and we pay for above normal mortality,” he said.

To put it into context, Duecheanux said in “his part of the country” typically farmers and ranchers have a 90% calf crop and are expected to have a plan for that first 10% loss.

“Anything above that, if it’s caused by weather related disasters such as this, the Livestock Indemnity Program can help,” he said. “So above normal mortality, 75% of fair market value which is established with input from the states at the national level.”

Next is the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm Raised Fish program or ELAP. This is a “catch all” program when something doesn’t fit in other standing programs.

“ELAP will help producers with losses due to wildfire and may be available for losses not covered in other disaster assistance programs like LIP or ECP, which is the last one I’ll touch on, Ducheneaux said.

The Emergency Conservation Program is designed to provide cost-shared emergency assistance to producers to help ensure that the goal of conserving soil resources and conserving habitats and ecosystems.

“It’s a cost-shared program,” he said. “If you happen to fit into a historically underserved or socially disadvantaged category, the cost share rates can be higher.”

FSA has worked on the ELAP and ECP programs to broaden and maximize their flexibility.

“So again, some loss that you have incurred you feel as ag related doesn’t quite fit—apply anyway,” he said. “So that we know that there’s more work to do.”

Card, as the local Extension agent, appreciates the technical knowledge in the area to help with agricultural producers including those with small acreages, non-commercial property owners, and residents and retail sites.

“We’re going to see a lot of emergence of need in the next couple of months,” he said.

Most of what has been reported to Card as agricultural losses has been on land owned by the City of Boulder or Boulder County that was leased to agricultural producers. Those tenants suffered mostly rangeland and pasture losses.

“As we saw this event unfold, extremely high wind velocities of up to 100 miles per hour (was observed). They’re seeing wind erosion in some of these areas as well,” he said. “It’s important to note that these are really preliminary observations most of the ground is still covered in snow. So we still need to get a full melt out before we can see exactly what those conditions are on the ground.”

One producer who was the most impacted suffered property losses that included 5,000 small bales of grass hay, 10 bulls valued at $3,500 each, and equipment losses.

All told they estimate at least 1,000 acres of agricultural commercial land was impacted. Much of the vegetation around residences was destroyed, and Card said Extension has residential landscape experts that can help advise residents on how to remediate these areas.

Adams is also concerned about what the fire has done to the psyche of those in its path.

“Extension is really in the business of helping you to prepare for disasters as well as to recover from them,” she said.

One resource available on the CDA website is Ready Ag, a workbook to help farm and ranch owners be better prepared to deal with disasters and catastrophic events that can occur on their farm or ranch. It is available at

There is more information for those affected by the fire at

Adams said there is opportunity after tragedies, and property owners need to think about how they could prepare for such a disruption.

“And when I say that, I know a lot of people go but where do I start? It’s so hard to even think of where I begin,” she said. “I’d like to suggest to you begin by making a communication plan with your family and friends.”

Having a plan allows the family and friends to know how they are, where they are and if everyone’s safe.

“When that happens, when you have that discussion, make that plan,” she said. “It helps you get into the routine of how you respond in other aspects of your life. So do take this opportunity to do that. You’ll feel much better about the whole thing.”

Kylene Scott can be reached at 620-227-1804 or [email protected].