Losses from a collapsed irrigation tunnel are insurable for agricultural producers, the U.S. secretary of agriculture announced Friday.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the agency has determined that because the collapse was due to a natural cause — unusually high precipitation — producers can submit claims for their losses.

Absent that federal determination, the Nebraska Panhandle and eastern Wyoming could have seen $89 million in losses.

That’s according to an economic impact analysis done by the University of Wyoming Extension and University of Nebraska Extension services.

For these reasons and more, members of the congressional delegations of the two states this week asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to rule that the catastrophe is an insurable event under federal crop insurance rules.

Senators from the two states and congressional representatives of the affected area wrote a joint letter to Perdue.

“We request you make an expedited determination based on the ongoing lack of adequate water supply and its damaging effects on growth and maturity,” says the Aug. 21 letter signed by Sens. Ben Sasse and Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Mike Enzi and John Barrasso of Wyoming, as well as Reps. Adrian Smith of Nebraska and Liz Cheney of Wyoming. All are Republicans.

Perdue was scheduled to be in Nebraska on Friday for a University of Nebraska Town Hall at the State Fair but canceled after inclement weather elsewhere interfered with his travel.

Midday Friday, Fischer and Sasse issued statements thanking Perdue and the agency for its determination and for giving producers certainty.

“The USDA did the right thing by covering this loss and preventing a bunch of bankruptcies in the Panhandle. It’s the honest thing to do,” Sasse said.

The irrigation system affected by the collapsed tunnel supplies water to more than 100,000 acres along the Nebraska-Wyoming border. Affected crops include corn, sugar beets, dry edible beans and alfalfa.

A 2,200-foot-long tunnel partially collapsed along the Fort Laramie Canal on July 17. Both Nebraska and Wyoming have issued states of emergency to help expedite repairs.

The $89 million estimate assumes a total loss of corn, beans and sugar beets and a one-third reduction in alfalfa production. It also factors in the multiplier effect of those losses as they ripple through the regional economy.

The Nebraska and Wyoming Farm Bureaus also urged the USDA to make an expedited decision in favor of providing federal crop insurance. In the meantime, donations are being collected to help both farmers and repair workers.

The tunnel collapse is in a remote location, so the Goshen County, Wyoming, Farm Bureau is collecting money to help cover daily food costs for tunnel repair workers, which ranges from $500 to $600 per day.

Checks can be made to the Goshen County Farm Bureau and mailed to Lori Schafer, 5858 Road 33, Veteran, WY 82243.

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In terms of the larger relief funds:

In Nebraska, donations can be made through a website established by Platte Valley Bank and the Oregon Trail Foundation. Donations made to pvbank.com/give will go toward the effort to restore water and support affected agriculture families.

In Wyoming, a donation account has been established at First State Bank. The money will be directed to the Goshen Irrigation District to support its work in repairing the tunnel and the canal damage.

Donations can be sent to First State Bank, P.O. Box 1098, Torrington, WY 82240. Checks should be made out to Goshen Irrigation District Donation Account.

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