Only a governor's request can make Western Maryland farmers eligible for low-interest federal emergency loans in drought situations, officials said.
If approved by Glendening and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, those loans are capped at $500,000 per farmer, with a 3.75 percent interest rate. Loans could cover up to 80 percent of the crop loss.
Farmers are eligible for the loans if there is a 30 percent loss in crops countywide. Agricultural experts say Washington County farmers have experienced damage to 50 percent of grass pastures, hay, corn and soybean crops.
The extent of the damage won't be determined until crops are harvested, in September or October, said Colleen Cashell, Washington County executive director of the Farm Service Agency.
The National Weather Service has forecast scattered showers and thunderstorms around Washington County today and Thursday, but such rain likely would help only a few areas, said Calvin Meadows, a hydrometeorological technician with the National Weather Service.
"It's not a situation where we're going to get light, soaking rain that will last for a while - the kind that the farmers really need," he said.
Hagerstown has received 17.5 inches of rain so far this year, compared to 45.69 inches that fell by the end of July last year, according to Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer.
Farmers use the affected crops to feed livestock and dairy cows. The drought is forcing farmers to dip into their winter stock of feed or but feed for their animals, Cashell said.
"When their '96 stocks run out, you're probably going to see dairy farmers going out of business," she said.
She recommended that farmers consult their crop insurance agents to learn how to collect money on insured crops.
Farmers who sell sweet peppers, vegetables and other uninsured specialty items can go to their county Farm Service Agency for possible compensation, said Marlyn Aycock, acting director for public affairs for the national Farm Service Agency.
"I'm glad to hear Mr. Bartlett is asking for assistance, because we certainly should be entitled to it," said dairy farmer Craig Leggett of Boonsboro.