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Drought - help on the way for farmers

July 22, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Eastern Panhandle farmers who have been hit hard by the drought are being offered federal assistance in Berkeley and Jefferson counties.

Farm owners can go to USDA service centers in Martinsburg and Ranson to sign up for emergency grain and hay supplies and file loss claims for federal aid, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service spokeswoman Peg Reese said Thursday.

Gov. Cecil Underwood has asked U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman to declare a federal agricultural disaster in the state.

The disaster declaration would allow farmers to apply for low-interest loans to help offset crop losses from the drought.

Farmers who need the loans can speed up the process by going to the federal service centers now and filing the paperwork, Reese said.

The USDA is also trying to get water that farmers will be able to haul to their farms, she said.

"Farmers can sign up for these now so that when we're ready to go they'll be first in line," Reese said.

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The service centers will work with farmers to develop water conservation programs including increasing water absorption and finding new water sources, she said. And they are trying to arrange such emergency fixes as water tanks that will fit in pickup truck beds - farmers could borrow them and use them to haul water to their land.

Mike Sienkiewicz, an agent at the Ranson USDA service center, said no farmers have requested assistance yet. He said he expects that to change as the drought continues.

The Ranson service center is trying to get hay donated from other parts of the country to help local farmers feed their livestock, he said.

The USDA service centers can be reached at 304-263-7559 in Martinsburg and 304-725-3471 in Ranson.

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