Wayne no longer considered in drought status
By Anessa Myers
Published in News on October 9, 2008 1:46 PM
After spending almost three months in the moderate drought category, Wayne County moved to the lowest category on the U.S. Drought Monitor scale -- abnormally dry -- last week, but farmers in the area may still see financial help from the government because of the length of the drought and the damage it has done to crops.
This time last year, Wayne County was in the extreme drought category, city residents were under mandatory water restrictions, and officials worried that the city water supply would soon run out.
City residents currently remain under voluntary restrictions, but the dry times aren't entirely a thing of the past.
Just ask farmers in the county, some of whom lost nearly all of their corn crop because of the lack of rain early in the plant's growing season.
Gov. Mike Easley wants the federal government to help by offering financial aid.
Easley asked U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer late last week to declare 59 counties disaster areas, including Wayne. The declaration would allow farmers to receive low-interest emergency loans.
The governor says the drought has eased in some parts of the state, but that many farmers still need financial help to stay in business.
Agriculture reports show significant losses in corn, soybeans and hay and other forage crops.
The disaster declaration also would make farmers eligible in any county next to a county that receives the designation.
Cooperative Extension Agent Kevin Johnson said Wayne should be on the list, with corn losses hovering around 75 percent. Many Wayne farmers planted more corn than in years past because of anticipated high prices.
He said that the county would be in need of aid based solely on the corn crop, but tobacco, cotton and hay didn't have a great year, either.
"I would say about 25 percent of the leaves of tobacco blew off (with Tropical Storm Hanna)," Johnson said. "The top leaves blew off, and the top leaves weigh more than the bottom leaves. And it's not that they just had some blow off -- (the storm) bruised them, tore them up and caused premature ripening."
Cotton, on average for the county, makes about 750 pounds per acre.
"We are probably going to have a 500-pound-per-acre crop this year," he said.
And as for hay, Johnson believes the cuttings were below normal, too, with the sun taking much of the crop out.
Soybeans are the only crop that is looking good, Johnson said.
"A lot of the rains that we have gotten in last month or so have helped fill out our soybean crop. As always, no matter what year or circumstance, some farmers have some problems, but for the most part, soybeans look good," Johnson said.
Johnson said that this year is not the first time that the county has been on the crop disaster list.
"We were on it for hurricanes Floyd and Fran, and have had real severe drought years that we have been on it," he said, including last year.
He expects the number of farmers that will apply for the financial help will rise this year, though.
"With a year like this year, I would think a lot of the farmers will apply because they have really lost a significant income both from corn and tobacco," he said. "This year is worse. It cost more to put the corn in the ground this year -- fertilizer tripled and farmers' fuel costs went up. They're going to lose a lot more than they have in the past."
Rick Tharrington, executive director for the county Farm Service Agency, said that the disaster relief for farmers is a "several step process."
"The secretary of agriculture makes a secretarial declaration. Once that happens, it triggers one particular program -- the emergency loan program which is designed to assist farmers who had damage and loses in significant crops of their farming operation," he said.
He said that the loans have a great benefit in that the interest is lower than commercial lenders can provide, but the farmer has to be able to show that he can pay it back.
"It allows vendors to take losses incurred and spread that loss over several years, freeing up cash flow to be able to keep farming," Tharrington said.
And this year, with higher input costs and less of a commodity to sell, he believes the loans will be more beneficial to farmers than in the past.
"You have to have a 35
percent loss of a major crop (to qualify for disaster relief)," he said. "Corn met that damage early."
Many farmers won't be applying for the loans soon though. Tharrington said that they have to finish their annual farming operations before they know where they stand, so he sees an influx of farmers applying for the loans later in the year.
He isn't sure exactly how many farmers will apply for the low-interest loans, though.
"It's really hard to say a number. There's a lot of different variables involved with this," he said. "There isn't a normal number of how many apply."
And although the rain that is likely to come today and Friday won't help many farmers or their crops, it helps the overall drought situation.
Jonathan Blaes, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Raleigh, said September was a very rainy month with rain levels up almost 4 inches above
October, he said, is typically dry. But, the water situation is good at the present, he said.
"If you're worried about water availability, most of the lakes and ponds have recovered," he said. "Unfortunately, because the rain has come on very suddenly, the groundwater supplies are still a little bit lower than is hoped for. So wells and springs, they are running a little bit below normal. And, if we don't get rain, we will still see the ponds and rivers dry up fairly quickly."
Many state residents, Blaes noted, have learned lessons from the drought.
"As a society, we are starting to learn that even though reservoirs and such are full, we still need to conserve. We need to be careful with our resources," he said.
Wayne joined 11 other counties in the state in the category, with 13 still remaining in extreme drought, 15 in severe drought and 28 in moderate. There are no counties in the state currently in exceptional drought.
-- The Associated Press
contributed to this report.
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