COLUMBIA – The Maryland State Emergency Board decided Wednesday to seek federal loans for farmers in nine Maryland counties hit by the recent drought.
The board will recommend that the governor request federal loans be made available to farmers in the affected counties in Southern Maryland and on the lower Eastern Shore.
July and August saw only 2.32 inches of rainfall, 69 percent of normal for those two months.
Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Dorchester, Prince George’s, St. Mary’s, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties are all expected to lose at least 30 percent of one or more crops.
Farmers in the affected counties have been struck hard with some farms reporting less than 50 percent of their normal yield, said James “Bubby” Norris, president of the St. Mary’s Farm Bureau.
Farmers are even in more danger as they have been hit by a “double whammy, low yield and low prices,” said Norris.
If the federal assistance is approved, a farmer could get a 3.5 percent loan to cover up to 80 percent of his loss or $500,000, whichever is higher.
Farmers are still a long way from that having the loans made available to them.
“The governor has to make a written request to the [state] secretary of agriculture that these counties be designated as disaster counties because of the drought occurrence in 1998,” said Bill Walmsley, an officer with the Farm Service Agency for Maryland and Delaware.
Also the loans cannot be processed until after the farmer has collected all his crop.
“On the disaster program, a farmer’s not going to be able to get a loan until he knows what his loss is, and a farmer doesn’t know his loss until he gets his grain in the tank,” Walmsley said.
State agricultural officials said they cannot wait until the crops are in, which is why Wednesday’s action was an important first step to prepare for the expected losses.
“What we’re trying to do is have a mechanism in place for farmers in emergency disaster counties,” said Ray Garibay, with the Maryland Agriculture Statistics Service.
Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties expect to lose 30 to 50 percent of their full- season soybean crop, while St. Mary’s and Prince George’s counties expect to lose at least 60 percent.
Corn losses of at least 35 percent are projected for Calvert, Dorchester, St. Mary’s, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester.
Calvert and St. Mary’s counties expect tobacco and hay losses of at least 40 percent.
Double-cropped soybean losses of at least 35 percent are projected for Charles and Wicomico counties while sorghum losses of at least 30 percent are forecast in Dorchester and Wicomico.
But Norris said the loans are not the cure-all to farmers’ problems.
“What good is a low-interest loan when you can’t put food on the table?” he asked.