Isle of Wight gets disaster declaration

Published 2:13 pm Monday, December 15, 2008

ISLE OF WIGHT—Gov. Tim Kaine has declared Isle of Wight County a primary natural disaster area, making farmers here eligible for low-interest loans because of reductions in farm production caused by drought and excessive heat.

It is one of 13 counties to receive the designation, which was approved by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

“Approval by the USDA means Virginia farmers in these localities are eligible to be considered for assistance,” Gov. Kaine said in a prepared statement. “We will continue to work with other affected areas and anticipate that the federal government will soon respond to these additional requests.”

Franklin and Southampton County were given contiguous disaster status, and also may be eligible for federal assistance, the press release said.

Wes Alexander, Southampton County extension agent, said most Southampton County farmers probably wouldn’t take advantage of the aid, since they would need to record a 40 to 50 percent loss.

“I don’t think anyone here is going to qualify,” he said.

The Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors asked for to be declared an agricultural disaster area in September after learning that lingering drought would cause expected shortfalls in the year’s corn, soybean and hay harvests.

“Some areas of the county have been hit worse than others,” Nathan O’Berry, the county’s agricultural extension agent, said at the time.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, most of Isle of Wight County is considered “abnormally dry.” The southern tip of the county dips into a band of moderate drought beginning in Mecklenburg County and running eastward to Virginia Beach. A strip of severe drought, the next level of drought severity, runs along the North Carolina state line from Southampton County to Virginia Beach. Just under half of the state is in some form of drought condition, mostly in the south and west.

O’Berry said that in Isle of Wight County it appeared corn was being harvested at about 65 to 70 bushels per acre, a smaller yield than the 5-year average of 88 bushels, and far less than the ideal yield of 100 bushels. There are 8,001 acres of corn in the county.

It was too early to tell just how the drought has affected the county’s 22,000-plus acres of soybeans. O’Berry said some farmers had decided in June to start replanting soybeans because of the drought. “Some of the soybeans that were replanted came up,” he said, “but some still did not come up.”

Disaster declarations make farm operators in both primary and contiguous areas eligible to be considered for low-interest emergency loans from the Farm Service Agency (FSA) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provided they meet certain eligibility requirements.