Drought Assistance Available for Farmers
Recent rains have eased drought conditions, but many Moore County farmers are still reeling from the effects of the 2007 drought.
Help may be available in the form of a new program financed through a $6 million grant from the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. Known as the N.C. Agricultural Drought Recovery Program, it is being administered through local Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
Taylor Williams, a horticulture specialist with the Moore County Center of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, said damage from last year's spring freeze and summer and fall drought is still being assessed. He estimates the local damage may be as high as $15 million or worse.
"The loss was enormous," Williams said. "That estimate is very conservative."
Fruit crop losses, especially peaches and berries, amounted to about $1 million, but the nursery business suffered several million dollars in damage. A freeze on the Easter weekend last year destroyed most of Moore County's peach crop and also inflicted widespread damage to such crops as blueberries and apples.
However, Williams said livestock losses will be considerably more difficult to recover because damage spans two years. Livestock producers faced enormous financial loss because pastureland dried up, causing them to pay premium prices for hay and other food sources after they used up their stored hay crops last summer.
Because of scarce food sources, many producers culled their herds early by taking a loss in poundage and now do not have animals to make income through sale.
Statewide, the 2007 drought damage is estimated at $500 million, ranging from $116 million in soybeans to $11 million in peanuts. Other hard-hit crops were corn, silage/pasture, cotton, tobacco, green industry, winter wheat, fruit and vegetables.
The new drought recovery program will cover 75 percent of the cost of restoring drought-damaged pastureland and providing additional water supply for livestock and crops.
"This grant makes it possible for more than 1,000 farmers and farm operations to restore some of the damage from last summer's severe drought and to prepare, so the next long, hot and dry summer doesn't do as much damage," said Billy Ray Hall, president of the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center.
The Rural Center worked with the General Assembly's Joint Select Committee on Agriculture Drought Response, the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, several state agencies and other agricultural interests to design the program and arrange funding. The Division of Soil and Water Conservation, the administering agency, is part of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Other participants were the N.C. Department of Agriculture, North Carolina Grange, N.C. Farm Bureau, N.C. State University Agricultural Extension Service, N.C. Foundation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, U.S. Department of Agriculture, N.C. Soil and Water Conservation Commission and Agricultural Advancement Consortium.
Rep. Ray Rapp, a Madison County Democrat and co-chairman of the legislative committee, said a bill seeking an additional $6 million to extend the program to more farmers would be submitted to the General Assembly during the budget session that opened Tuesday.
"We recognized that any proposal we made to the legislature could not go into effect before July at the earliest, too late to save many of our farmers," Rapp said. "Fortunately, the friends of agriculture in North Carolina are not limited to members of the General Assembly. Money from the Tobacco Trust Fund lets us put this project into effect immediately."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture last year designated 85 of North Carolina's 100 counties as natural disaster areas. Moore is one of them.
Eligible for cost-share grants are farmers adversely affected by last year's drought with a total adjusted gross income of less than $250,000 or those who derive 75 percent of their income from farming operations. They must apply to the local Soil and Water Conservation District office to determine eligibility and to develop a covered project.
Examples of projects provided by the program are pasture renovation, drilling and redrilling wells, pond construction and renovation, conversion of closed lagoons to fresh water ponds, and upgrading existing irrigation systems to more efficient models.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 947-4962 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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