Drought Relief May Come Soon

The Recorder, August 31, 2016, by Andy Castillo

Farmers facing financial hardship as a result of this year’s drought could receive help from the federal government soon.

“This is ongoing, and it’s what makes drought unique,” said Brad Pfaff, deputy administrator for farm programs of the Farm Service Agency, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, during a round-table about local agriculture held Wednesday morning at the Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.

If drought conditions continue for a little bit longer, Pfaff said the federal government will open the Emergency Conservation Program, which helps farmers save drought-damaged land and offers low-interest Emergency Farm Loans.

The discussion came during a tour of local farms, including The Kitchen Garden in Sunderland and Bar-Way Farm in Deerfield, by Congressman Jim McGovern and representatives from state, local and federal agencies. McGovern sits on a House agriculture committee and spent two days touring farms in his district.

Across South County farms are facing crop loss from a lack of rainfall and lost man-hours due to labor-intensive irrigation systems.

“We need to be looking at this in Washington almost as disaster relief,” McGovern said at the beginning of the discussion.

As to state funding, Jason Wentworth, assistant commissioner for the Mass. Department of Agricultural Resources, said loans could be available through the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.

On Twitter earlier this month, Gov. Charlie Baker wrote that the state housing office is “working to establish a drought Emergency Loan Fund to aid impacted communities and agricultural businesses.”

For drought to be classified as a natural disaster, the region needs to be under level-two drought conditions on the National Drought Monitor for more than 30 days, or qualify based on hardship. Officials said that could happen within a week.

Instead of waiting until an emergency is declared, Lori Carver, executive officer with the Farm Service Agency, said farmers should check in with the agency sooner rather than later.