Isle of Wight wants drought disaster declaration

Published 3:30 pm Tuesday, October 21, 2008

ISLE OF WIGHT — Isle of Wight is on a list with 17 other counties asking to be part of a drought disaster designation by the federal government.

Meanwhile, Southampton County is waiting to see what its crop yields are before deciding whether to pursue a similar designation.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday that 11 counties in Virginia – Amelia, Amherst, Bedford, Campbell, Dinwiddie, Halifax, Louisa, Nelson, Nottoway, Pittsylvania and Prince Edward – have been designated as primary natural disaster areas. The designation makes farmers in those counties eligible for low-interest loans and any supplemental relief that might be provided by Congress in the future.

In a press release, Gov. Tim Kaine said, “The low-interest loans farmers in these counties are now eligible to apply for could provide much needed assistance. We anticipate that the USDA will soon respond to the many additional requests for disaster designation.”

Included with Isle of Wight on the request list to be included in the primary disaster area are Albemarle, Brunswick, Buckingham, Caroline, Charlotte, Fluvanna, Franklin, Goochland, Greene, Hanover, Henry, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Powhatan, Rockbridge, Scott and Surry counties.

Nathan O’Berry, extension agent for Isle of Wight, said about half of the county’s corn crop – 4,000 acres – was affected by drought this year.

“Half of the county received timely rains,” O’Berry said. “The other half didn’t receive rain when they needed it.”

According to O’Barry, the next step in the process would be for the governor’s office to seek additional information on how hard Isle of Wight County was hit by the drought. The Farm Service Agency would provide some of that information. O’Barry said there could be a decision on the county’s request “in the next week or two.”

“Some producers were very surprised by their yields,” O’Barry said. “We wanted to get (the request for primary disaster status) out there for those guys who need it. We don’t want to leave anybody out.”

According to O’Barry, a dry June was largely to blame for the demise of some of the county’s hay and soybean crop, especially double-crop soybeans, which are planted behind the harvesting of wheat. O’Barry said only 1.15 inches of rain fell in Isle of Wight in June.

“A lot of (soybean) producers had to replant,” O’Barry said, adding that some of those replantings did not fare well either.

Southampton County has not requested to be designated as a disaster area, electing instead to wait and see what the harvest totals are, according to extension agent Wes Alexander.

“It’s certainly been dry (in Southampton),” Alexander said. “Our yields were affected. Some parts (of the county) were much more severely hit than others.” He added that to be considered to be in a drought situation, the yield must be 35 percent less than the 5-year average of previous years. The highest and lowest years are not factored in when trying to calculate if a drought exists.

“At this time, we don’t think the county is going to be at that level,” Alexander said. “As the harvest comes in we will get a much more accurate picture of what’s out there.”

Alexander said that there was no deadline for the county to request designation as a disaster area.

According to Alexander, about 90 percent of the corn crop has been harvested. He said that to be considered for federal drought status, the corn crop yield would need to be at or below 60 bushels per acre.

“We’re probably going to be a little bit above that,” Alexander said.

O’Barry said he thought Isle of Wight would eventually be included in the contiguous area for disaster relief. As part of the contiguous area, farmers may be eligible for federal assistance.

Currently, four independent cities – Bedford, Danville, Lynchburg and Petersburg – and 24 counties have been designated as part of a contiguous disaster area, according to the governor’s press release.

The 24 counties in the contiguous area are Albemarle, Appomattox, Augusta, Botetourt, Brunswick, Buckingham, Charlotte, Chesterfield, Cumberland, Fluvanna, Franklin, Goochland, Greensville, Hanover, Henry, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Orange, Powhatan, Prince George, Roanoke, Rockbridge, Spotsylvania and Sussex.