CISA opens loan fund for drought

The Recorder, September 20, by Richie Davis.

CISA, which recently awarded five zero-interest loans totaling $43,000 to area fruit farmers for stone-fruit crop losses by freezing buds last February, has opened its emergency loan fund to help growers deal with the effects of this summer’s drought.

Deerfield-based Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture’s revolving loan fund has $110,000 available for loans of $5,000 to $10,000 for Pioneer Valley farmers who have suffered crop losses or other economic impacts due to the drought, the nonprofit organization announced this week.

“This summer’s unprecedented drought has impacted farms of all kinds,” said Philip Korman, CISA’s executive director. “Most of the farms in our region are equipped to manage dry spells with irrigation and careful management, but this is well outside the norm, and many farms are in need of financial support.”

The application deadline will be Oct. 21, and because more farms have been hurt by the drought, more farmers are expected to apply than for the earlier round.

“This makes a real difference for these farms,” said Korman, noting that the loans require no payment for the first year, and pointing out that low-interest emergency loan programs are also offered by the state Department of Agricultural Resources and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency.

Franklin County, which suffering severe drought conditions as of last week — except for more dire “extreme drought” conditions in the county’s southeast corner — was named one of 11 counties eligible for emergency disaster relief by USDA, making farmers eligible for loan programs offered by the state and federal governments.

“This year’s weather has been a great challenge to Massachusetts farmers; first with the winter freeze and now with a severe drought,” state Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton said in a press statement issued Tuesday. “Despite that, our farmers have done a remarkable job at getting high-quality, nutritious food to market, and I urge Massachusetts residents to buy local to support our hardworking farmers.”

Franklin County was also among the drought areas eligible for the USDA’s Livestock Forage Disaster Program, compensating eligible livestock producers who’ve suffered grazing losses on pasture land.

Information about CISA’s Emergency Farm Fund is available here, and details on other relief programs are available here.

Businesses or individuals that want to donate to the CISA Emergency Farm Fund so that CISA can help more farms with drought-related losses may contact Alexis Schneeflock, development director at 665-7100 or online here.

CISA’s Emergency Farm Fund was launched in 2011 in partnership with Whole Foods Market and Equity Trust in response to farm damage caused by Hurricane Irene. In all, it’s distributed $166,000 in loans to 19 farms.

The fund is managed by CISA with the assistance of Equity Trust. The Loan Review Committee includes a team of people with a variety of agricultural backgrounds, including CISA staff, Whole Foods Market, Equity Trust, state Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and farmers.