State Offers Loans to Farm Affected by Drought
The Daily Hampshire Gazette, September 8, 2016, by Chris Lindahl
Farmers seeking financial relief from shriveled crops resulting from this year’s drought may be eligible for a new state program that provides small loans to family farms.
The Massachusetts Drought Emergency Load Fund will provide up to $1 million in loans to farms and agricultural businesses across the state affected by the recent dry conditions.
The fund, which was announced Wednesday, will offer three-year loans between $5,000 and $10,000 with an annual interest rate of 3 percent, according to the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corp., the economic development agency operating the program.
Businesses must have been profitable prior to the 2016 drought. The program is expected to run through November.
“Our family farms are the lifeblood of our locally sourced food and sustainable agriculture in our region,” Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, said in a release. “These loans will provide much needed relief to our farmers and related businesses who have sustained crop damage as the result of our unusually dry summer growing season.”
The program comes after a separate program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture was announced earlier this month. Those emergency loans are available only to farms in Franklin, Worcester, Middlesex and Essex counties, which have been designated as drought disaster areas by the USDA due to their proximity to southern New Hampshire, which is considered to be in “extreme drought.”
Most of Hampshire County is in the category “severe drought,” while northern Franklin County is in “moderate drought” following months of low rainfall across the region.
Drought-like conditions are expected to persist in Massachusetts (excluding parts of Berkshire County) until the end of November, according to the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center.
Jeremy Barker Plotkin, an owner of Simple Gifts Farm, said the drought has led to some big expenses and hard decisions at the farm in Amherst .
“It’s been a tough year,” he said.
Of particular concern is the farm’s dried-out pasture. That means Simple Gifts will have to buy hay earlier than usual to feed its beef cattle. In turn, the farm will have to butcher a greater number of cows to offset the cost, and they would normally be kept for breeding, Barker Plotkin said.
Simple Gift’s crops, which are offered as part of a farm share, have fared better. “If we hadn’t had that rain in August, we would have been looking at some serious crop losses,” he said.
The farm relied heavily on its well and sprinkler, both of which needed repairs due to the high frequency of use. When the well pump broke earlier this summer, the crops were left unwatered for an entire week until the pump could be repaired. “We fell way behind,” Barker Plotkin said.
He said he is uncertain if the farm will need a drought-relief grant. He noted that for farms having a particularly difficult year, $5,000 to $10,000 would not go very far. The interest rate, however, is very favorable, he said.
“If you’ve got losses due to drought, then you can use it to cover some of your operating costs,” he said.
Barker Plotkin said Simple Gifts relies heavily on government loan programs. Most of its capital investments are financed through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he said.
The state drought loan program is open to Massachusetts-based family farms and farm-related businesses. Companies involved in real estate investment, multi-level marketing, firearms or adult entertainment are ineligible, according to the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corp.
Applications are available online at www.massgcc.com and will be accepted by the corporation’s local partner organizations. In the Valley, those include Valley Community Development Corp., Hilltown Community Development Corp., Franklin County Community Development Corp., HAP Housing, the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network’s Western Regional Office and local chambers of commerce.
More information is available by calling the corporation at 617-337-2803.