Drought brings disaster declaration

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By Walt Reichert

The United State Department of Agriculture declared all 120 of Kentucky's counties disaster areas on Tuesday. The move will allow farmers in the state to apply for low-interest loans.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher had asked the USDA for the disaster declaration on Aug. 29. All of the state is considered in drought condition, with the central portion of the state, including Shelby County, in extreme drought. Rain totals so far this year are about 7 inches below normal. The University of Kentucky Agricultural Weather Service estimates it will take just under five inches of rain to bring the area out of drought conditions. Spotty rain is predicted for this weekend.

Meanwhile, pastures have dried up, hay is in desperately short supply, grain yields have withered and tobacco has been damaged both in the fields and in the barn.

The declaration allows farmers who do not have another lender to apply for 2-percent interest loans from the USDA's Farm Service Agency. The local FSA office said information on the loans has not come in yet but should be available soon.

For more information on drought assistance, visit the local USDA/Farm Service Agency office or visit the USDA's website at www.usda.gov.

The disaster declaration is also a first step in getting direct payments to farmers from the federal government at a later date.

The state Agricultural Development Board (KADB) has also shifted funds in its programs to allow farmers to use money for drought relief that they may have been planning to use for other projects. Instead of using Tobacco Settlement money for fencing, for example, farmers may now be able to use the money for bringing water lines to cattle. Details of the modifications to the Model Program Guidelines are now available on the Governor's Office of Agricultural Policy website at agpolicy.ky.gov.

'Uncharted territory'

The drought has hit yields of nearly every agricultural crop commodity in the county. Yields of tobacco, corn and soybeans have been just below normal on the west side of the county but well below normal in the Cropper-Bagdad area.

Farmer Paul Hornback said not only are tobacco farmers reaping lower yields because of the dry weather, the dry curing conditions will likely reduce the weight of the tobacco that comes out of the barn.

The dry weather is also damaging the quality of the tobacco as it hangs in the barn.

"It's drying too fast in the barn," Hornback said. "If it doesn't go in and out of case, the color is not good."

Hornback said no one knows what price buyers may be willing to pay for tobacco that is of poor color. Farmers had been getting $1.65 to $1.70 per pound for tobacco, but Hornback expects they will get less this year. Unlike years past when the USDA ran its tobacco program and farmers were guaranteed a buyer, the crop is now sold on the open market and there are no guarantees.

"I think they'll buy at a price but who knows what price," Hornback said. "This is the first crop we've had without a program. We're in uncharted territory,"