MONROVIA -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer added two counties yesterday -- Washington and St. Mary's -- to a list of Maryland counties seeking federal relief help from the summer drought.
"It's been a difficult summer for many Maryland farmers and I want to make sure that agriculture remains a viable industry in the state," Mr. Schaefer said after touring a farm in eastern Frederick County. "I'm worried about our producers, and I want them to receive any federal assistance due them."
Wednesday, the governor listed Allegany, Anne Arundel, Carroll, Frederick, Howard and Prince George's counties in a letter to federal agricultural officials asking that the jurisdictions be declared disaster areas.
By adding the two counties yesterday, Mr. Schaefer would make 19 of the state's 23 counties eligible for disaster relief, said James C. Richardson, head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Maryland Emergency Board.
Only Cecil, Caroline, Wicomico and Worcester counties would not be covered.
Because of the way the law is written, counties contiguous to those designated by the USDA as disaster regions also qualify for the designation if they experience a 40 percent crop loss.
In his request for aid, Mr. Schaefer cited reports from state agricultural officials which estimated that initial drought losses statewide will exceed $57 million.
The disaster area tag would allow farmers in those counties to apply for low-interest loans from the federal Farmers Home Administration. The loans, for farmers turned down by commercial lenders, would be available at 4.5 percent interest -- and would cover portions of losses up to $500,000.
Farmers also would be eligible to purchase feed grain from the USDA's Commodity Credit Corp. at below market prices and use land that had been taken out of production to qualify for the government's price-support program for grazing.
The governor's trip to a drought-stricken farm -- this one owned by Jesse and Cathy Burall -- is becoming a regular trek. It marks the fifth time in 10 years that Maryland farmers have been affected by a severe drought. Dry conditions plagued farmers in 1983, 1986, 1987 and 1988.
Mr. Burall is better off than many of his farming neighbors in Frederick County, the county hardest hit in the state, with losses of more than $18 million, state officials said. He has crop insurance on his 270 acres of corn. Most of his neighbors don't.
"I'm doing this for fellow farmers to call attention to the problem as much as anything else," he said. "Some of them will need help to survive."
As he and Governor Schaefer spoke to reporters, storm clouds hung in the sky nearby. Mr. Burall was asked whether he would rather have federal assistance or the rain.
"Let it rain," he said. It did, but only briefly.