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Franklin, Fulton counties declared natural disaster areas

Designation was made Sept. 3 based on statistical data about rainfall

September 13, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Franklin and Fulton counties are among 16 Pennsylvania counties the U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated as natural disaster areas because of a drought that started May 25.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made the designation Sept. 3 based on statistical data about rainfall, according to Andrea Sharretts, executive director of Franklin County's USDA office.

The declaration means farmers in affected areas are eligible for low-interest emergency loans from the USDA. They have eight months to apply for loans to cover part of their drought-related losses.

Because of Washington County's proximity to the drought areas, farmers there also can qualify for natural disaster assistance, a news release stated.

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"We are trying to get funding to help people out," Sharretts said.

Loan purposes include operating and real estate costs, restoring/replacing essential property, production costs for disaster year, essential family living expenses, and reorganization and refinancing certain debts, she said.

The designation also affects other programs, such as the Supplemental Revenue Assistance (SURE) crop disaster assistance, Sharretts said.

"I've heard guys say this is the worst crop year they've had in 30 years," Sharretts said.

A few farmers have said their wells went dry, she said.

Dry weather means less forage for cattle, according to Greg Strait, a Fulton County cooperative extension educator who works with 4-H dairy and livestock clubs.

An acre of Fulton County land could yield 12 to 15 tons of corn for animals in an average year, Strait said. This year, the yield is typically 8 to 10 tons an acre, particularly in the harder-hit southern part of the county, he said.

Many of Fulton County's 42 farms are buying hay from out of state, Strait said.

"I'm not going to say it's getting to be 'make it or break it,' but it's not going to help them," he said.

Some farmers are turning to sorghum-sudan grass, which is drought-tolerant but provides less energy for livestock, Strait said.

Strait said he hasn't heard of dried wells in Fulton County, although some farmers say they can no longer use ponds that usually fill concrete troughs for them.

Franklin County doesn't have an agronomist in its cooperative extension office. In nearby York County, Pa., John Rowehl said farmers are losing money by not being able to sell extra grain they tried to grow.

"Obviously there is a lost value because of that," he said.

Some farm operators are planning to grow oats in the fall to gain forage, Rowehl said.

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