Farmers in 16 counties in line for disaster relief 9 counties expected to have lost at least 30% of one or more crops

The drought

September 24, 1998|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

In a move that virtually guarantees federal disaster relief for farmers in 16 Maryland counties, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's state Emergency Board yesterday determined that the 1998 drought has caused serious crop losses in Southern Maryland and the lower Eastern Shore.

This is the second consecutive year that a substantial portion of the state has suffered through a serious drought and will qualify for disaster relief.

But this year's drought hits particularly hard because it comes at a time of sharply depressed grain prices due to big harvests in the Midwest and a decline in farm exports.

"For some farmers, this is going to be their worst year ever when you consider the drought and low prices," said James Hanson, assistant director of agriculture and natural resources programs at the University of Maryland.

William Walmsley, a Farm Service Agency official and acting chairman of the Emergency Board, said the drought has destroyed between 30 percent and 65 percent of the crops in nine Southern Maryland and lower Eastern Shore counties.

Prince George's County was hit particularly hard. Farmers there expect to lose 65 percent of their soybean harvest and 20 percent of their corn, tobacco and wheat crops.

In St. Mary's County, the shortage of rain during the summer has destroyed 60 percent of the soybeans, 50 percent of the hay and tobacco and 40 percent of the corn.

"This is going to be a very tough season for a lot of farmers," said Robert Hutchison, who farms 4,000 acres with his brothers near Cordova in Talbot County.

"Adjusted for inflation, corn prices are the lowest they have ever been," Hutchison said.

Walmsley said he would send a letter to state Agriculture Secretary Henry A. Virts telling him of the board's recommendation for disaster relief.

The normal procedure, he said, is for the agriculture secretary to pass the recommendation on to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who then requests a disaster designation from U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman.

Ray Feldman, a spokesman for Glendening, said the governor would process the request immediately.

Such a designation would qualify farmers for low-interest government loans covering up to 80 percent of their losses, not to exceed $500,000.

"This is not a lavish benefit program for farmers," said Patrick McMillan, an assistant to Agriculture Secretary Virts. "It's an emergency loan program. That's it.

"It's not like the National Guard trucks will roll in and they will be throwing out hay and dollar bills to farmers. Farmers have to be in bad shape to qualify for a loan."

But more help could be on the way. Because of the national farm crisis this year, Congress is considering additional emergency aid for farmers.

An administration plan calls for $7.1 billion in relief, considerably more than the $3.9 billion plan proposed by Republican leaders.

To qualify for a disaster designation, a county must show at least a 30 percent loss of a major crop. Farmers in these counties would also have to show a 30 percent loss of a major crop.

The Emergency Board determined that nine counties currently qualify for disaster relief. They are: Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Dorchester, Prince George's, St. Mary's, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester.

According to federal law, farmers in counties adjacent to those reporting at least a 30 percent crop loss also qualify for federal relief.

This adds Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery, Kent, Queen Anne's, Caroline and Talbot counties to the program.

Estimated crop losses

MA Estimated crop loss in Maryland's nine hardest-hit counties:

County ............. Corn ... Tobacco ... Full-season soybean

Anne Arundel ....... 25% .... 10% ... ... 50%

Calvert ............ 35% .... 50% ... ... 50%

Charles ............ 20% .... 10% ... ... 40-60%

Dorchester ......... 35% .... ... ... ... 40%

Prince George's .... 20% .... 20% ... ... 65%

St. Mary's ......... 40% .... 50% ... ... 60%

Somerset ........... 35% .... ... ... ... 30%

Wicomico ........... 35% .... ... ... ... 40%

Worcester .......... 40% .... ... ... ... 35%

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Pub Date: 9/24/98

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