Low-interest emergency loans are part of the plan to help make the drought more bearable for farmers.
Lee County is one of 33 counties in Alabama that have been declared disaster areas because of the drought, which has reached the “severe to extreme” levels. The United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack made the declaration last week, according to the announcement made by Gov. Robert Bentley’s office.
The area has experienced abnormally dry conditions for about two years now.
“Farmers across Alabama are suffering through what has been an extended drought from last year. We appreciate Secretary Vilsack’s response to this critical situation that affects so many (of) Alabama families,” Bentley said.
A primary natural disaster area is declared when a drought has occurred for at least eight consecutive weeks or extreme drought conditions have occurred during the growing season. Thirty-three of Alabama’s 67 counties are in the disaster area, while a further 12 are “contiguous disaster counties,” meaning farmers there may also apply for the loans.
Farmers have eight months from the announcement to apply for the loans, meaning March is the deadline set for now.
Farmers in a disaster area must have lost at least 30 percent of a major crop or component of their business compared to their average annual yield, said Farm Service Agency loan manager Danny Lindsey. Because of this, farms will probably have to wait until winter, after the harvest, to have an accurate assessment of their losses that were caused by the drought.
Loans can increase up to $500,000, and have a rate of 2.25%, compared to the usual 3.75%. Farm operation loans are available as well in case the emergency loans do not cover all losses.
The USDA lists most of southern and eastern Alabama as under the emergency drought, while designating much of the rest of the state as close behind.
Lee County joins Autauga, Baldwin, Barbour, Bibb, Bullock, Butler, Chambers, Chilton, Clay, Cleburne, Coffee, Conecuh, Coosa, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Dallas, Elmore, Escambia, Geneva, Henry, Houston, Lowndes, Macon, Montgomery, Perry, Pike, Randolph, Russell, Talladega, Tallapoosa, and Wilcox counties as primary natural disaster areas.
The 12 “contiguous disaster counties” are Calhoun, Cherokee, Clarke, Hale, Jefferson, Marengo, Mobile, Monroe, St. Clair, Shelby, Tuscaloosa, and Washington counties.
The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries said farmers should talk to their local USDA Farm Service Agency offices for more information about the loans. The FSA offices will consider, among other things, the applicants based on production losses, credit and ability to repay the loans.
There is a small light at the end of the tunnel as the U.S. Drought Monitor and National Weather Service suggest that over the next three months the drought will become slightly less severe.