Farmers seek U.S. aid for livestock feed Rising prices, losses from drought cause hardships, letter says

'This is the last hope'

12 Maryland counties have qualified for federal disaster relief

November 13, 1997|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Faced with unprecedented hardships from the worst drought in three decades, Maryland farmers are petitioning for federal assistance to pay for livestock feed.

C. William Knill of Mount Airy, president of the Maryland Farm Bureau, has written to Dan Glickman, U.S. secretary of agriculture, asking for federal emergency funds to assist farmers coping with soaring feed prices and facing unprecedented hardships this winter.

"For many, this is the last hope," said Knill, who wrote the letter Monday. "The money is there, and I know they are going to be called upon to use it for a disaster. In Maryland, this is a disaster. Just because it only affects four or five counties does not make it any less a disaster."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has about $30 million in discretionary funds that can be used for disaster relief, such as the assistance given to farmers in South Dakota, which was devastated by spring floods.

Under terms of the federal emergency feed bill, farmers would have to submit an inventory of their livestock and feed to the local Farm Service Agency office. Payment would be 60 percent of a state-established market rate for the lost crops.

Areas with crop losses of at least 35 percent are eligible for the program. Carroll, Frederick and Washington counties have all posted crop losses in excess of 50 percent.

An Aug. 8 disaster designation, federally enacted for 12 Maryland counties, qualifies the state for federal assistance, but most of that is in the form of low-interest loans. Many farmers often do not qualify because of insufficient cash flow, Knill said.

"Estimates indicate that more than 1,000 farmers in the hardest hit counties of Frederick and Carroll still have not been able to secure affordable recovery loans," Knill wrote.

In Carroll County, the corn crop loss could exceed 80 percent, with the sweet corn sold to consumers almost a "total wipeout," said Kelly Hereth, executive director of the Carroll County Farm Service Agency. Fields that normally yield 110 bushels an acre are producing about 20, with much of that unusable.

"We are talking about catastrophic loss," Hereth said. "The agency has posted losses from about 600 farmers this year."

Hay lift in Frederick County

In Frederick County, a hay lift is offering some relief. The county is offering its neediest farmers free hay bales, much of it donated from Southern Maryland. But donations are waning.

"We have hay on hand but not enough to get us through the winter," said John W. Droneburg, Frederick County director of public safety and emergency management, whose department organized the hay lift. "We are out there searching for donations for the many farmers telling us they can't feed their animals."

'No money, no corn'

Since the emergency operation started Sept. 3, the county has given away about 195 tons of hay, but it needs at least that much more to meet the demand. About 65 farmers have signed up for the giveaway. Many have received second donations of up to 100 bales.

"We have farmers with no money and no corn in silage," Droneburg said.

Silage -- corn chopped in its green stage and stored in silos -- is cheap, moist and palatable feed. But farms that usually reap 20 tons of silage an acre are getting about seven. The market is demanding about $35 a ton for the little silage that is available. Hay prices are at $200 a ton, twice the normal price.

Dairy industry problems

The dairy industry was suffering before the drought, Knill said. Farmers, who lost most of their winter feed to the hot, rainless summer, cannot afford to keep cattle through the winter or to sell them on a declining beef market. Milk prices are down.

"With beef cattle, you are concerned with maintenance," Knill said. "With dairy, you have to keep feed up or your production will drop."

Maryland has lost 40 percent of its dairy farms since 1988. In the past six months, 35 Maryland dairy farms have gone under, with the number of farms dropping from 911 to 876.

"Maybe the dairy industry won't survive in Maryland, especially in areas where there is so much pressure to develop," Knill said.

Farm in Mount Airy

He quit the dairy business five years ago and now runs a produce and beef cattle operation on his 550-acre farm in Mount Airy.

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, the 6th District Republican who is sponsoring the farm relief bill, said last month that Glickman has congressional authority to release the funds.

"Hopefully, Glickman will use the funds to respond to the needs of farmers," Lisa Wright, spokeswoman for Bartlett, said yesterday. "We have been waiting for a response for some time."

Letters, such as Knill's, can have an impact on the process, Wright said.

"You can't get what you don't ask for," she said.

Hereth agreed. A letter from a farmer suffering the effects of the disaster every day is more convincing than all the numbers she can offer.

"My job is to gather the numbers and state the facts," she said. "The farmer says, 'I am one of those people.' He is those numbers."

Pub Date: 11/13/97

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