WASHINGTON – Gov. Parris Glendening Friday asked the U.S. Agriculture Department secretary to designate 12 Maryland counties disaster areas, so that farmers hard hit by the summer’s drought can apply for emergency loans.
In a request to Secretary Dan Glickman, Glendening said a damage assessment report determined that a dozen counties in southeastern Maryland had suffered severe crop losses due to the drought in July and August.
He said several hundred farmers would qualify for low- interest loans if the disaster declaration is made.
“I have asked the secretary for his prompt consideration of this request so we can help our farmers at a critical time in their financial planning for next year’s crop,” Glendening said.
Marlyn Aycock, a spokesman for the USDA’s Farmer’s Home Administration, said his agency will need two or three weeks to decide whether to grant the loans. Each county will be regarded individually.
He said chances are “pretty good” that Maryland farmers will receive loans. “We have to see what the damage is and look at the normal amount of crop in the county,” Aycock said. “The general criterion is a countywide loss of 30 percent of one crop.”
The crop most affected by the drought in Maryland is soybeans. In a normal year farmers harvest 35 to 50 bushels per acre, but this year few counties showed an average higher than 20, according to the damage assessment report prepared by the federal Farm Service Agency.
Queen Anne’s County yielded the lowest amount of soybeans, with just 11 bushels per acre.
Other counties included in the request are Wicomico, Worcester, Somerset, Dorchester, Talbot, Caroline, St. Mary’s, Charles, Calvert, Anne Arundel and Prince George’s.
If the USDA decides that a county qualifies for emergency loans, interested farmers would have to fill out an application at their county’s Farm Service Agency office, said Jim Voss, state executive director for the FSA in Maryland.
He said the main criteria to determine whether a farmer qualifies are a documented crop loss of at least 40 percent and the inability to receive a loan any other way. “We are a lender of last resort,” he said.
The USDA loans can be made for 80 percent of the amount of a farmer’s loss, but for not more than $500,000, Voss said. The interest rate is 4.5 percent, about 1 percent lower than the usual rate charged by the agency. Farmers also have more time to pay the money back.
The total amount of loans is unlimited, Voss said.
“The restricting factor is the financial plight of farmers,” he said.
Harold Kanarek, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, said the drought overall had not been as extensive as the one two years earlier, but that some farms had been hit as hard as farms in 1993.
“We had a cool, wet spring, so we had a higher water table going into the summer,” he said.
Willma Reeves, a St. Mary’s County farmer serving on the Farm Service Agency’s State Committee, said some farmers in her county have suffered severe losses from the drought. She said they should receive as much help as possible.
“America has been very lucky to have ample food at reasonable prices,” she said. “This country should help its farmers to stay in business.
“If we don’t support farmers now, the next generation will pay dearly for this generation’s being tight-fisted,” Reeves said. – 30 –