USDA announces designation

A recent designation by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack should help county farmers seek relief due to this year’s drought-like conditions, but the extent of that help will depend on Congress’s ability to get legislation passed, a local farming authority says.

Vilsack announced Wednesday 10 Ohio counties as primary natural disaster counties and 11 other counties as contiguous disaster counties, including Auglaize County.

Auglaize County Farm Service Agency (FSA) Executive Director Anita Green said right now the announcement means Auglaize County farmers will be able to apply for low interest loans to get help.

“Farmers will be able to get emergency operating loans for physical and production losses they have experienced because of the conditions,” Green said. “These are loans to help cover crop or commodity losses they could not ordinarily get.”

Green said the drought has affected all areas of farming, with livestock producers being hit especially hard. The conditions have affected feed sources and silage, forcing feed to be purchased at higher costs. The high heat also affected milk production.

The Pro Farmers Tour toured the county Tuesday and estimated the corn production for the county at 110 bushels per acre, approximately 50 bushels per acre below the 160 bushels per acre typically harvested.

“The drought has been persistent and caused substantial yield damage,” Green said.

With the designation, farmers also will be able to request using CRP acres set aside for conservation as additional feeding areas to help reduce feed costs.

The declaration could offer more help to farmers if legislators can reach agreement on the 2012 Farm Bill, which would be retroactive to the Sept. 30, 2011 expiration date of the 2008 Farm Bill.

The Senate has approved a farm bill that has yet to clear Congress.

Congress also has passed separate legislation to offer aid to farmers but the measures have not passed through Senate.

Passage of a 2012 Farm Bill or some other ad hoc legislation would re-establish several programs.

The Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE) offers farmers help by making up production losses that fall short of the SURE guarantee. The program pays up to 60 percent of the difference up to approximately 115 percent of crops covered on a farmer’s crop insurance guarantee.

The Farm Loan Program (FLP) provides direct guaranteed loans to farmers who are unable to obtain private or commercial credit. The Emergency Livestock Assistance Program (ELAP) would provide emergency assistance for livestock loss and the Tree Assistance program (TAP) assists qualifying orchardists to replace eligible trees, bushes and vines for food production. Currently these programs expired with the expiration of the farm bill Sept. 30.

“If or when a farm bill or an ad hoc law is passed, these will be retroactive,” Green said.”At this point, we do not know when they will be available.”

A total of 174 counties in 15 states were designated in Vilsack’s announcement Wednesday. To date, 1,792 counties have been designated, with 1,670 of them due to the drought.