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Drought meetings offer farmers advice

September 10, 1999|By DON AINES

McCONNELLSBURG, Pa. - Officials from five agencies sponsored three drought meetings in Fulton County Friday to provide advice and information to residents.

Only a handful of people showed up.

The meetings in Hustontown, McConnellsburg and Needmore brought together the Fulton County Conservation District, the county Emergency Management Agency, Penn State Extension Office and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Much of the information was aimed at farmers, including sources of aid, drought-coping strategies and livestock feeding alternatives.

John Johnston, the county's Farm Service Agency director, said there are about 490 farms in the county.

"We did estimates in July on a crop-by-crop basis and projected then 30 to 50 percent loses," Johnston said. He said those estimates were probably low since there was no significant rainfall until the end of August.

Farmers are eligible for federal emergency loans, but some may also qualify for the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, which covers hay, pumpkins, cucumbers and other specialty crops for which insurance is not available.

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If a farmer suffered a loss greater than 50 percent of normal production, the program will provide payments covering some or all of the shortfall.

Johnston said his agency has to ask that the county be made eligible for the program, but he didn't expect problems.

Farmers were advised to plant winter rye and other cover crops in the next few weeks to reduce soil erosion and increase crop yields next year, said county Extension Director Tom Ford.

Farmer Lonnie Palmer said his silage yields will be off by 50 percent or more this year. Shelled corn losses will be greater, meaning he will have to buy feed.

Strait said some farmers in Franklin County are supplementing feed with moisture-rich byproducts from companies such as Fresh Express in Greencastle, Pa., which makes packaged salads.

The extension office is asking farmers with extra hay or forage to sell to register with the office.

County Emergency Management Director Lisa Sherman said people should report to her office when wells or streams run dry. There's no water rationing now, but it's a possibility if the drought continues.

Fulton County Conservation District Manager Jennifer Reed said continued water conservation is necessary.

Even for those with private wells, "it all comes from the same acquifer," she said.

Fulton County has received 26.1 inches of precipitation this year, which is close to normal, according to District Forester Merl Waltz.

The problem is not how much rain, but when it fell. May, June and July were well below normal and most of August's 3.7 inches came too late to improve crop conditions, according to county officials.

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