Federal aid for drought losses Ruined crops: State farmers' emergency pleas have fallen on deaf ears in Washington.

November 18, 1997

An editorial in The Sun yesterday on disaster relief for farmers incorrectly stated that funds from an emergency feed program are no longer available. While the law expired five years ago, $32 million remains in a reserve account, which can be dispensed at the discretion of the U.S. secretary of agriculture.

The Sun regrets the error

FARMERS KNOW FULL WELL that they are subject to the whims of nature and the market -- and to the vagaries of federal agriculture programs. For Maryland farmers suffering from the effects of the driest summer in three decades, federal disaster relief is needed if they are to have enough livestock feed to make it through winter.

Carroll, Frederick and Washington counties lost more than half their corn and hay crops due to drought. Three-quarters of Carroll's important soybean crop perished. The state estimates farmer income losses at $147 million.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"Just because it only affects four or five counties does not make it any less a disaster," said William Knill, president of the Maryland Farm Bureau, in requesting federal funds for lost crops. "In Maryland, this is a disaster."

It's a justifiable lament, given Washington's propensity to reward victims of flood and hurricane, and to dismiss local drought claims.

This localized farm disaster flies in the face of a record nationwide corn crop, and of higher winter-grain production in Maryland. And there's limited political leverage available for limited areas (even though 17 Maryland counties were declared a disaster area this summer by the U.S. Department of Agriculture).

Relief funds would have been available had Congress reauthorized the emergency feed program, which paid livestock farmers about half of their replacement feed costs. But that law expired five years ago. Affected farmers can still buy federal crop insurance and get low-interest loans, but both programs require cash that is scarce on devastated farms.

While government has to make hard decisions on aid, this seems like the kind of emergency that should qualify. The agriculture department could tap its contingency funds to provide some relief, preferably similar to terms of the defunct livestock feed program.

When losses in Carroll County alone are estimated at more than $17 million, and Frederick County livestock farmers are paying twice the normal price for hay to see their animals through winter, this is a disaster.

Parched, withered cornfields may not appear as strikingly dramatic as fields covered by floods, but the effects on farm production are similar. Washington should give Maryland farmers a helping hand, now.

Pub Date: 11/18/97

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