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Most drought relief will come after harvest time

August 12, 1999|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A federal disaster declaration for Maryland makes some Pennsylvania farmers eligible for emergency assistance, although the aid available may be limited until this fall.

"The only thing that's going to open up immediately is the Emergency Loan Program," Franklin County Farm Services Director Tom Kerr said Thursday.

Franklin, Fulton and other Pennsylvania counties bordering Maryland were included in the declaration made Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"They can make their applications at this time, but we don't think anything will be available until Congress returns" Oct. 1, Kerr said. Once Congress reconvenes, additional loan and grant programs may become available, he said.

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The number of farmers in the county eligible for assistance won't be known until the harvest, Kerr said.

"We would need to determine they had an actual crop loss ... They won't know actual losses until they harvest the fields."

Even then many farmers won't qualify for federal loans. Kerr said farmers will have to show the drought caused a loss of more than 30 percent of one or more crops.

Last week, Kerr said his crop report to the Pennsylvania Farm Service Agency would show losses greater than that for corn, soybeans and other crops.

Kerr said he expects all of Pennsylvania to be declared a federal disaster area by the end of this week.

To be eligible for the loans - up to $500,000 at 3.75 percent interest - farmers will have to show they cannot secure loans from banks or other lending institutions. At the same time, those farmers would have to show they still have the cash flow to repay the emergency loans, according to Kerr.

"The farmers don't want to take on this extra debt unless they have to," he said.

The drought has continued to worsen in August with just 0.2 inches of rain in the Chambersburg area as of Thursday, according to local weather observer Jerry Ashway. Average rainfall for August is 3.41 inches, he said.

Because of heavier than normal precipitation at the beginning of the year, the rainfall deficit for 1999 is just 2.84 inches, according to Ashway. The deficit since May 1, however, is 8 inches.

Going back to July 1998, precipitation in the county has been more than 12 inches below normal, Ashway said.

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