Declaring a disaster

Published 9:11 am Friday, September 10, 2010

COURTLAND—Gov. Bob McDonnell has asked the federal government to declare 37 localities in the state, including Southampton and Isle of Wight counties, as drought disaster areas.

With this year’s corn crop devastated by a lack of rain, and other crops not expected to fare much better, McDonnell urged U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to make the declaration so farmers could receive government aid.

“I make this request in response to the agricultural losses experienced in these localities due to drought and excessive heat for the crop year 2010,” McDonnell said in a Sept. 3 letter to Vilsack. “Any federal assistance that would help reduce the financial hardship experienced by farmers in these localities would be greatly appreciated.”

Other counties include Albemarle, Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford, Brunswick, Campbell, Caroline, Charlotte, Clarke, Culpeper, Cumberland, Dinwiddie, Essex, Franklin, Goochland, Hanover, King and Queen, King George, Lancaster, Louisa, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Middlesex, Nelson, Northumberland, Nottoway, Patrick, Pittsylvania, Powhatan, Prince Edward, Pulaski, Richmond, Rockbridge and Westmoreland. The city of Suffolk was also listed.

With the aid from the government, local farmers may qualify for low-interest emergency loans to cover property and production costs, living expenses or certain debts. Farmers can borrow up to 100 percent of actual production or physical losses, to a maximum of $500,000.

The Southampton County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution on July 26 asking Gov. Bob McDonnell to declare the county a drought disaster area. Their counterparts in Isle of Wight followed suit on Aug. 19. Officials in both counties estimate that combined losses in the corn, pasture and hay harvest totals $7.2 million.

Additional losses are expected in the peanut, cotton and soybean crops, all of which still need to be harvested.

“Despite the reprieve from the severe drought conditions of June and July, soybeans are still quite a bit behind where they normally would be at this point in the year,” Neil Clark, the interim Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent for Southampton County, said Wednesday.

Clark added that farmers were busy as they awaited confirmation from the federal government for aid.

“Scouting and spraying for worms is occurring where needed,” Clark said. “Most of the corn has been cut for animal feed or salvaged at very low yields. Cover crops and small grains are being seeded for winter.”