Kentucky farmers struggling to cope with a prolonged drought can seek emergency loans to help offset crop losses after state officials received word Tuesday of a federal disaster declaration due to the dry spell.
Agricultural officials welcomed the designation but said it was the first step in providing relief from the combination of a spring freeze along with the drought.
“Our livestock producers in particular need immediate, direct assistance for emergency water and feed supplies, to try and protect as much of our livestock industry as possible,” said Marshall Coyle, president of the Kentucky Farm Bureau.
The disaster designation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture allows farmers in the state’s $4 billion-a-year industry to seek emergency assistance, including low-interest loans to help pay for essential farm and living expenses.
Farmers interested in applying for the assistance should contact their local Farm Service Agency offices for additional information.
Keith Rogers, executive director of the Governor’s Agricultural Policy Office, said one estimate in July indicated that losses to pastures, hay fields and other forages could range from $200 million to $500 million in Kentucky due to the freeze and drought.
That figure did not include the damage inflicted to corn, soybeans, wheat, fruit and other crops due to the double whammy of unfavorable weather.
“This most definitely will be one of the most serious droughts that Kentucky has faced in the last 20 or 30 years,” Rogers said by phone.
Rogers said the crop damage was “spotty,” with some Kentucky producers enjoying good harvests due to timely rains, while others suffered big losses.
Prospects for Kentucky’s soybean farmers remained grim as harvesting continues.
A statewide crop-reporting service said this week that 53 percent of the soybean crop was poor or very poor, while 26 percent was fair, 17 percent good and 4 percent excellent.
The statewide corn harvest was 82 percent complete as of Sunday, according to the report by the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Kentucky field office. Yields varied widely depending on the amount and timing of rain received, it said.
Eighty-two percent of the state’s pastures were rated very poor or poor.
The drought is delaying some wheat planting this fall as farmers wait in hopes of rain.
The disaster declaration also would put Kentucky in line for possible assistance if Congress passes emergency legislation helping U.S. farmers beleaguered by devastating weather this year, Rogers said.
Gov. Ernie Fletcher sent a letter to the state’s congressional delegation last month making a pitch for federal disaster assistance for Kentucky producers.
Coyle said that Kentucky livestock producers, for instance, need long-term help to restore pastures and cropland damaged by the drought.
“We will continue to work with our congressional delegation to secure funds that will allow that recovery work to begin as soon as possible,” Coyle said.
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