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Governor asks for aid for farmers Bid for federal relief follows tour of fields


Following up his inspection tour last week of sun-scorched fields, Gov. William Donald Schaefer yesterday requested federal disaster relief for Maryland farmers.

In letters to President Clinton and Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, Governor Schaefer said that state farmers have already suffered millions of dollars in losses and that the damage to corn, soybean, fruits and vegetables is mounting each day.

"I have visited farms in both Cecil and Wicomico counties and have seen the stress the heat and lack of rain have caused," Mr. Schaefer wrote. "Therefore, I have requested that the administration include Maryland farmers in all existing federal agricultural disaster programs and make them eligible for any additional aid that may be approved by Congress."

In addition, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat, said yesterday that all 10 members of the state's congressional delegation joined to urge for the federal aid.

Although the governor's letter does not designate specific counties to be declared disaster areas, surveys conducted last week by the Agriculture Department's Maryland Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS) office found that the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland have suffered the most damage. Based on those surveys, and after his tour, the governor had been expected to seek the federal disaster aid.

James M. Voss, director of the ASCS office in Columbia, said last week that he expects all but the three westernmost counties -- Allegany, Garrett and Washington -- to qualify for disaster relief.

Mr. Voss said the counties along the Pennsylvania border have fared better because they received more rain but would qualify for relief, too, because of how the law is written. The law allows counties contiguous to those that posted crop losses of at least 40 percent to qualify for federal relief.

The ASCS office, which administers all U.S. Agriculture Department programs in the state, reports that corn for grain losses range between 30 percent and 90 percent, silage corn damage is 30 percent and soybean losses range between 30 percent and 50 percent.

Damage to the watermelon and cantaloupe crops is expected to exceed 35 percent, and dairy farmers are reporting a 25 percent drop in milk production because of the high temperatures over the past 30 days.

To qualify for relief, farmers will need to show at least a 40 percent loss of their crops. He said that farmers in regions designated by the president as disaster areas could also be eligible for low-interest loans and grants. Loans would come through the Farmer's Home Administration.

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