LEWISTON — Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and the state’s congressional delegation have contacted federal authorities to try to get some $10 million in disaster relief money for northern Idaho farmers possibly lost after Otter’s office failed to meet a paperwork deadline.
The Lewiston Tribune reports that hundreds of farmers in Lewis, Nez Perce, Idaho and Clearwater counties whose wheat crops were damaged in a 2009 storm could be affected.
“I acknowledge my office made a significant error in not sending the governor’s disaster declaration letter within the 90-day time frame outlined in the Farm Bill,” Otter wrote in a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “This was our mistake, not Lewis County’s, so I’m asking you not to penalize farmers in that area for circumstances beyond their control.”
If a disaster is declared in one county, any contiguous county automatically qualifies.
Otter spokesman Jon Hanian said a misplaced fax led to the missed 90-day deadline on Nov. 23 to get the paperwork to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In November, the governor’s office was relocating from temporary offices in the Borah Building to the newly renovated Statehouse.
Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo and Democrat U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick said they hope to submit legislation so Idaho farmers will get the money. However, support from other lawmakers could be scarce, the newspaper reported, because only one or two other congressional districts in the country missed disaster deadlines.
“We took a major, major hit,” said Lewis County Commissioner Don Davis. “We just found out it may have cost something in the neighborhood of $5 million in Lewis County alone. Farmers in this area are unhappy. They’ve had some mediocre years — that’s the nature of the beast up here on the prairie — and that’s why these farm programs are in place.”
In 2009, heavy rain hit in the middle of the wheat harvest, causing county commissioners to approve a disaster emergency declaration.
“This isn’t just a Lewis County issue,” said Travis Jones, executive director of the Idaho Grain Producers Association. “Nez Perce County, Clearwater County and Idaho County would also have qualified. When you add them in, that ups the expected loss (from the missed deadline) to the $5 million to $10 million range. But that’s hard to verify.”
Karel Wemhoff, Lewis County executive director for the United States Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency, said a similar storm in 2008 led to about 240 producers qualifying for $5.1 million in relief payments. That doesn’t include producers in surrounding counties, she noted.