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Henry farmers vie for federal disaster loans

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Georgia farmers are now eligible for federal, low-interest, emergency loans to recoup losses suffered this summer, during dry, hot weather, according to a report by the Governor's Office of Communications.

The announcement means farmers could borrow up to 100 percent of their actual losses -- up to $500,000 -- with an interest rate of 3.75 percent, according to officials with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Gov. Sonny Perdue announced Monday that USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack identified 151 Georgia counties, including Henry County, as primary disaster areas impacted by drought and excessive heat, from July 1, 2010, to the present.

"Georgia's economy relies heavily on our agriculture industry," said Perdue, in a prepared statement. "I appreciate Secretary Vilsack's commitment ... to assist farmers in counties that have been hit hard by dry weather and extreme heat in the past several months."

The disaster designation was in response to a request submitted by Perdue. The USDA's disaster declaration enables farmers in targeted counties to be considered for the emergency loans from the Farm Service Agency (FSA), to help them recover from losses they incurred from drought, flooding, other natural disasters, or quarantine.

"While we've had some rain recently, the dry spell earlier this year had a damaging effect on Georgia's agriculture industry," Perdue said. "This assistance from USDA will give Georgia farmers options in managing their production losses, and planning for next year's planting season."

In Monday's report, state officials referred to USDA Damage Assessment Reports, showing farmers in 151 counties statewide sustained losses, due to the drought conditions.

Clayton, and Newton counties, are among eight contiguous counties eligible for assistance in accordance with section 321 (a) of the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act, according to the governor's office.

"The drought hurts everybody," said D.C. Mullis, Jr., county extension director for the Henry County FSA. Mullis said the Henry County FSA service area includes at least 123 farmers in Henry and Clayton, as well as Fayette, Spalding, and Butts counties.

The county extension director pointed out that Henry's recent residential and commercial development has caused its row-cropping industry to dwindle down to three major row-crop farmers in the Hampton area. The remaining farmers in Henry, he said, typically produce hay and raise cattle. Mullis said the drought and heat last summer has affected hay production and reduced grazing opportunities for cattle throughout the region.

Farm operators in both primary and contiguous disaster areas are eligible to be considered for FSA emergency loans, according to FSA Farm Loan Specialist Dean Lewis. He said those farmers will have until July 26, 2011, to apply for emergency loan assistance.

The loan specialist added that some farmers took advantage of the loan opportunity provided by the last statewide designation, in September 2009, whose application deadline expired Nov. 2, 2010.

Last year's designation, for excessive rainfall, covered 98 counties throughout the state, noted Lewis. He said the primary disaster areas locally included Henry and Spalding counties, while Fayette, Clayton, and Butts counties were contiguous counties.

"Any farmer that's interested in applying for one of these loans, [should] contact their local farm agencies," said Lewis. More information is available at the FSA web site, at www.fsa.usda.gov. Farmers also may visit the Henry County Farm Service Agency Office, at 333 Philips Drive in McDonough.