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Gregoire seeks federal disaster aid for farmers

Tue., Aug. 16, 2011

OLYMPIA – Here’s one more thing to consider when complaining about this year’s weather: All 39 counties in Washington may be “disaster areas” and eligible for farm disaster aid because of several hard freezes last winter and the cool, wet spring.

Chris Gregoire asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to begin the process for determining disaster relief across the state, which would make farmers who sustained significant crop losses eligible for emergency loans and other aid.

It’s an unusual request on several counts. For one, it’s not tied to any single event, like a hailstorm, tornado or flood, where the damage is immediately apparent. For another, some of the crops are actually looking good as harvest gets under way.

In a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Gregoire listed weather problems for each of the state’s counties, ranging from “excessive rain and cool spring” throughout Eastern Washington’s wheat counties and the Puget Sound area to “freeze, frost and excessive rain” in Benton and Yakima counties.

“It is unusual that this happened throughout the state,” Chris Bieker, of the U.S Farm Service Agency. “All 39 counties may not get a primary disaster designation.”

Farmers are being asked to report their losses to the FSA. If there’s a 30 percent loss to a particular crop in a county, farmers with losses in that county and the adjoining counties could be eligible for emergency loans and supplemental payments to make up for lost revenue, Bieker said. There’s also a tree assistance program that could help orchardists who lost trees to the frosts in November and February.

The losses won’t be known until after harvest, she said, and the cool weather has delayed harvest in many parts of the state.

While the overall apple crop looks good right now, some orchards, vineyards and berry farms were hit hard by deep freezes.

“This is turning out to be a really good crop for winter wheat, but not spring wheat,” Bieker said. The wet spring made it difficult to plant spring wheat. It also caused rust, a fungus, in the winter wheat that farmers had to spray in time to save their crops. She added, however, “It’s not a good crop until it’s in.”

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