Relief offered to farmers

Published 7:17 am Friday, March 26, 2010

Community Editor

Farmers across eastern North Carolina received some relief Monday when U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack designated 39 counties, including Beaufort, as disaster areas after heavy rain and flooding caused “significant crop losses.”
The designation allows eligible farmers to be considered for Farm Service Agency emergency loans and the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program, according to a news release from Gov. Beverly Perdue’s office. Eligible farmers include those who suffered more than a 30-percent loss of wheat crops. Losses are calculated by adding up the production of a particular crop, in this case wheat, and dividing it by the number of acres used.
“We base it on what their yields would have been in a typical year,” local farm-loan manager Paula Nicholls said.
Farmers may apply for an emergency loan at their local Farm Service Agency through Nov. 18.
Nicholls handles emergency loans for farmers in Beaufort, Hyde, Washington, Tyrrell and Dare counties. She is available Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Beaufort-Hyde Farm Service Agency’s office, 155 Airport Road, Washington.
Beaufort was one of 26 counties named as a contiguous natural-disaster area. Neighboring Washington and Craven counties were named primary disaster areas.
The designations came in response to record rainfall in eastern North Carolina in the last two months of 2009. Much of the trouble started with a tropical-system-turned-nor’easter that had been called Ida. The storm moved through in early November 2009, dumping 6 to 7 inches of rain over a widespread area — and more in some places, explained Brian Cullen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Newport. Official records kept at New Bern indicated a new record of 8.6 inches for the month of November, Cullen said.
Perdue requested the disaster declaration Feb. 18 after loss-assessment reports from the 13 primary counties reflected a 30-percent or greater loss of at least one major crop, most notably wheat, which is usually planted in November.
Frankie Black, co-owner of Black Brothers Farms off of U.S. Highway 264 east of Washington, said his family didn’t plant any wheat this past season.
“It stayed so wet and bad,” he said.
Instead, the Black brothers applied for preventative planting insurance, in which the federal government reimburses farmers up to 60 percent for what they would’ve made off a typical yield. Farmers usually apply for preventative planting in cases of extreme drought, not heavy rainfall and flooding. Still, Black said a lot of local farmers put in for preventative planting insurance this past wheat season.
To receive reimbursement, farmers with preventative planting insurance have to plant soy beans on farmland used to plant wheat.
“If you don’t, they (the federal government) want their money back,” Black said.
Wheat and soy beans are what Black called “double crops,” which means soy beans are planted on the same land used to grow wheat. Usually, wheat is harvested in May, and soy beans are planted in June, but this season, Black said, farmers will start planting soy beans in May.
Wendy Modlin, executive director of the Washington-Tyrrell FSA, said about two-thirds of the farmers in her counties didn’t plant wheat.
“It’s a big economic bust in (a farmer’s) financial status for the year,” she said.
Jeanie Setser, executive director of the Beaufort-Hyde FSA, said local farmers who elected to plant wheat have had disappointing results. Some have had to plow under their crops and plant them over again, she added.
“Farmers that were able to plant, their wheat crops were terrible,” Setser said.
Nicholls expects to see an influx of farmers apply for the emergency loans once their wheat crops are harvested and yield losses are compiled.
“It might be June before they determine if they had a loss on those crops,” she said.
Setser said farmers who apply for emergency loans will most likely use the money toward operating expenses for fall crops, such as soybeans, corn, cotton and tobacco.