Plan would help farms U.S. would pay for 30 percent of winter feed

Bartlett sponsors bill

Emergency aid authorized after worst drought in decades

October 17, 1997|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A federal emergency feed bill and a crop assistance program could bring relief to farmers suffering from the worst drought to hit Western Maryland farms in three decades.

Congress has authorized a cost-share program that would have the government paying for 30 percent of the feed purchased this winter.

"Congress has given [Agriculture] Secretary [Dan] Glickman the authority; the resources are available," Republican 6th District Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, the bill's sponsor, said. "The ball is in his court."

Areas with total crop losses of at least 35 percent are eligible for the federal noninsured assistance program. Carroll, Frederick and Washington counties all estimate losses exceeding 50 percent, but farmers must report their losses to local farm service agencies to get the program started.

Most herds are in pastures now, foraging on what little grass has grown in recent rains. Wherever possible, farmers are mowing hay.

"Almost everybody in the area is mowing now as much as they can," said Melanie Stambaugh, a Union Bridge dairy farmer. "But most of us still won't have enough to get us through the winter."

Farmers have little hay for feed and face scarcities and prices that are twice the normal. With no credit to buy what they did not grow, many must sell cattle at a loss rather than feed them through cold weather.

"We are selling off about 40 heifers that we would normally keep in our herd," said Stambaugh, whose 150 dairy cows consume about 100 bales of hay daily.

The federal government has about $34 million in disaster reserve stocks, "more than sufficient to meet the needs of farmers in the state," said Lisa Wright, spokeswoman for Bartlett.

An Aug. 8 disaster designation, federally enacted for 12 Maryland counties, qualifies the state for federal assistance.

USDA authority

In an Oct. 6 letter to Glickman, Bartlett noted the USDA Program Aid, saying Congress has provided the secretary "with the authority to utilize financial reserves."

Under terms of the bill, farmers would have to submit an inventory of livestock and the total feed they have on hand to the local Farm Service Agency office.

Bartlett criticized farmers who did not secure crop insurance, often available for as little as $50 per crop. He promised his bill would be a one-time offer.

"This inaction has had the effect of placing numerous farms in several states in dire condition with no relief in sight," he said. "Farmers will not receive aid again in the future if they do not have crop insurance."

Must report

Farmers also could participate in the noninsured assistance program. For that to take effect in Carroll County, about half of the approximately 1,000 farmers must report their losses by acreage.

"We must report acreage, production, weather data and any supplemental information to substantiate this is a loss due to a natural disaster," said Kelly Hereth, executive director of the Carroll County Farm Service Agency.

Payment would be 60 percent of a state-established market rate for the lost crops.

In Carroll, the corn crop loss has reached nearly 80 percent. Fields that normally yield 110 bushels per acre are producing about 22, with much of that unusable. Soybeans, helped a little by fall rains, will probably be 35 percent of the typical harvest.

'All bad'

"Not one farmer has said there are good crops out there," Hereth said. "Right now, it is all bad out there."

But the government will not accept estimates, she said.

"This program is triggered by requests for assistance," she said. "Producers must notify us of their losses and give us a production history."

Hereth said she would like to have adequate numbers in time for the next farm committee meeting Oct. 30.

The state committee would review the data and forward it to the federal Department of Agriculture.

Pub Date: 10/17/97

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