WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Agriculture this week declared 17 Maryland jurisdictions disaster areas, exceeding the state’s original request for help for areas hit by this summer’s drought.
Farmers in the 16 counties and Baltimore City who lose at least 30 percent of a crop can apply for a 3.75-percent interest loan to cover up to 80 percent of their losses or $500,000, whichever is higher.
The state had asked for aid for Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Dorchester, Prince George’s, St. Mary’s, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties. The USDA declared disasters in those counties Tuesday and added the city, Baltimore County, and Caroline, Howard, Kent, Montgomery, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties.
An official with the Maryland Farm Bureau said any help is welcome, but she anticipates only a “slim number” of state farmers will be helped.
“We’re pleased that the secretary [of agriculture] made the decision,” said Valerie Connelly, the Maryland Farm Bureau’s director of government relations. “We’ve got a lot of farmers that are suffering from the drought and low prices.”
But Connelly said the loan program is “a catch-22” for farmers: Only a small number are bad off-enough to qualify for aid and have enough money to secure an emergency loan.
To qualify for the loans, farmers have to lose at least 30 percent of a crop, they must be unable to obtain financing through a commercial lender, they must prove they can repay the loan and provide collateral to secure it.
But Bill Walmsley, the farm program chief of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, said emergency loans last year “helped some farmers from not having to go out of business.”
He said about 60 Maryland farmers received emergency loans last year. He also said that farmers who cannot afford to pay a commercial lender’s interest rates can try to apply for an emergency loan.
The FSA requires borrowers to keep acceptable records and develop a farm plan with the agency. Farmers who qualify for loan assistance might also be required to participate in a financial management training program and obtain crop insurance.
The emergency loans must be paid back within seven years for crop and livestock losses. In unusual circumstances, such as flooding or another drought, repayment may be extended.
“We try to be as flexible as possible to help [the farmers] out,” said Lynn Tjeersma, chief of the FSA’s emergency preparedness and programs branch.
The National Weather Service said only 2.3 inches of rainfall was recorded at Baltimore-Washington International Airport for July and August, 5.3 inches below average.
Applications for emergency loans must be received within eight months. Interested farmers should contact their local Farm Service Agency.