Luján Secures Major Victory from USDA for Rio Arriba Farmers and Ranchers, Traditional Communities
After Luján intervenes, farmers and ranchers will receive full crop insurance reimbursement after years long battle with USDA, FSA
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), a member of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today announced that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has agreed to fully compensate Rio Arriba farmers and ranchers for unfair changes made to the Non-insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) reimbursement rate by the Farm Service Agency (FSA) in New Mexico. The Department has also paused a policy change announced under the Trump administration to stop covering drought claims on acequia-irrigated lands, ensuring that New Mexicans who experienced loss due drought but were denied coverage will receive their much-needed relief.
“New Mexico’s farmers and ranchers are essential workers who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. This reversal in policy and practice represents a hard-fought victory that gives New Mexicans the benefits they deserve and have paid into, as well as a chance to keep their farms and ranches afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. Drought relief is on the way for New Mexicans,” said Luján. “I thank Secretary Vilsack for working with me to right these wrongs, and I look forward to continuing to work alongside New Mexico farmers and ranchers to ensure they have access to critical programs, including drought relief.”
“My family has been ranching and farming in the Tierra Amarilla valley for seven generations. In order to help our ranching and farming businesses survive in times of drought, we need USDA NAP policies to be there when the water is not. I truly appreciate Secretary Vilsack’s efforts in taking this important step to correct the mistakes and mismanagement at the NM Farm Service Agency, including the unfair changes made to the NAP reimbursement rate for our farmers, and to recognize that acequia-irrigated lands qualify for assistance,” said Tony Casados, an impacted farmer and rancher. “I thank Senator Luján for his unending support in helping our growers in Rio Arriba County stand up to these unfair actions.”
“Thanks to tireless efforts of ranchers from Rio Arriba County and the steadfast support of Senator Luján, ranchers who were impacted by unfair decisions by the FSA will finally receive much needed support for their agricultural operations. This is a major victory for ranchers who participate in FSA programs,” said Paula Garcia, Executive Director of the New Mexico Acequia Association. “Additionally, a pause in the unjust policy that made acequia-irrigated lands ineligible for FSA programs is an affirmation that, going forward, the FSA will be more responsive to the needs of our ranching community. We look forward to working with Senator Luján and the FSA to develop policies that better serve the needs of the statewide acequia community and to promote participation by farmers and ranchers in underserved communities.”
During the Trump administration in 2018, the New Mexico FSA office abruptly reduced the crop yield to trigger NAP assistance, pulling the rug out from under farmers and ranchers and causing unnecessary financial hardship. Then-Congressman Ben Ray Luján sprang into action to address this injustice, meeting with then-USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to advocate on behalf of the Rio Arriba farmers and ranchers. Secretary Perdue agreed to allow producers who had already received the full pay out to keep the relief that they were paid.
The farmers and ranchers who received a lower payment appealed the decision to the USDA National Appeals Division, which ruled in their favor. For two years, the Farm Service Agency office in New Mexico laid obstacles to avoid paying Rio Arriba’s farmers and ranchers the relief they were initially promised.
Following his confirmation, Secretary Tom Vilsack immediately began working with Senator Luján to provide equitable relief and to pause the policy change announced under the Trump administration to stop covering drought claims on acequia-irrigated lands for additional review.