Disaster relief due? USDA identifies 13 counties in region for crop loss
Matt Morris’s cattle farm has seen well over 30 inches of rain since mid-May.
It’s been a challenge.
On May 15, a swollen creek that runs along the edge of his farm poured several feet of floodwater onto forage fields near the farm’s entrance in Frederick County, Md.
Thousands of pounds of rocks, stone and debris were pushed onto one of his fields, and a nearby bridge on Catholic Church Road washed out, denying access to the farm.
Worse even, about 1,600 feet of fencing was destroyed in the flooding. Fortunately, on a whim, he’d moved his herd to higher, secured ground before the deluge.
“We had no idea it was going to rain. It was just dumb luck,” he said.
Morris, a Frederick County Extension agent, lost a few acres of grazing and forage land and untold man-hours to the rainfall, but the consequences on farms in his community varied.
Hail, for instance, damaged a nearby orchardist’s apple crop.
Morris said he also noticed the notoriously bedeviling crop weed, Palmer amaranth, somehow washed onto his fields — and probably onto neighboring farms farther down the creek.
It’s been a bit of a disaster.
Record-setting rainfall and flooding across the state over the last several months has been so severe that the USDA announced in late July that it granted a disaster designation for widespread crop losses to 11 counties across the state.
The designation allows farmers in four primary counties — Dorchester, Frederick, Somerset and Wicomico — and seven contiguous counties — Caroline, Carroll, Howard, Montgomery, Talbot, Washington and Worcester — to be considered for assistance from the department’s Farm Service Agency.
Delaware’s Sussex County and Virginia’s Accomack and Loudon counties were also included granted the designation.
“Our administration is committed to helping our hard-working farmers who were severely affected by record rainfall and widespread flooding, in most cases losing entire crops,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement. Hogan sought the federal designation. “This funding will provide much-needed assistance and relief to Maryland’s farmers and bolster our vital agricultural sector, and we are pleased that our federal partners have granted our request.”
More than 8 inches of rain fell across the Baltimore-Washington region in May, more than double the average, according to the National Weather Service.
Above-average rains also fell in June, and July was the second-wettest month on record in Baltimore with nearly 17 inches on record, dwarfing the 4-inch average.
Some farmers have lost entire crops and replanted, all the more difficult in an environment of low commodity prices.
“You’ve got grain farmers that are just trying to grow a crop just to not lose money this year versus make a living,” said Colby Ferguson, government relations director at the Maryland Farm Bureau. “This has been an extremely rough year for growing crops in all forms.”
The disaster designation makes farmers eligible for low-interest loans up to $500,000 to repair damaged property and cover expenses.
They have eight months to apply for emergency assistance and must have purchased federal crop insurance to qualify for the programs.
Ed Heikes, a Talbot County grain farmer, said continuous rain delayed his planting until the third week of June, and some nearby farmers didn’t start until early July.
Heikes said rain also forced him to replant a significant chunk of the 1,200 acres on which he grows corn and soybeans.
“It probably dinged the potential yields to both corn and soybeans 25 to 40 percent because of the late planting and the negative effect on the corn that had already emerged,” he said. “And the fun part of it is you don’t know until the end of the year what the end result is.”
But he said he’s not depending on federal reimbursement.
“It’s not super helpful, but it can’t hurt,” he said. “I’m not expecting a lot of that.”
Morris said his farm has largely returned to normal with one exception: the fencing near his creek will no longer be permanent.
“If it happens again, there’s no sense in putting a $1,000 fence in there just to keep losing it,” he said.
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