Farmers hit by drought are offered federal aid; 'Fair number' of farms in Maryland qualify for disaster relief


Beginning next month, Maryland farmers who suffered serious drought damage to their crops last year can apply for federal disaster relief, a U.S. Department of Agriculture official said yesterday.

Nearly $2.4 billion in emergency aid has been set aside for the nation's farmers, "and a fair number of state farmers will qualify for relief," said James M. Voss, executive director of Maryland's Farm Service Agency office in Columbia, which administers USDA policy in the state. The money will be provided to farmers across the country who suffered heavy losses.

Voss said farmers who suffered significant crop losses -- in the range of 35 percent or more -- should apply for disaster relief payments. The enrollment period will begin Feb. 1 and continue for six weeks.

Voss said details of the federal relief plan "are still being ironed out," but that the process should be completed by month's end.

"The message that we need to get out to farmers is: 'Hey, we've got some emergency aid payments for you and you should be aware of that, but as of this time, we don't have the particulars,' " Voss said.

The $2.4 billion is part of a $7 billion farm-aid package passed by Congress to help farmers reeling from a year of flood, drought, crop disease and collapsing Asian markets that dropped grain prices to eight-year lows.

Another $400 million will be used to provide incentives -- discounts of up to 35 percent -- for farmers to buy more and better crop insurance from private companies.

Voss said it is too soon to determine how much Maryland farmers will receive from the government. He said that if disaster requests from farmers total more than what was approved by Congress, the payments will be prorated.

Voss said the aid package payments "won't come close to covering the financial loss of farmers, but it will help them get a crop in this year."

He speculated that most of the farmers on the middle and lower Eastern Shore and in Southern Maryland will qualify for relief.

A severe drought destroyed between 30 percent and 65 percent of the crops in nine Southern Maryland and lower Eastern Shore counties.

Prince George's County was hit particularly hard. On average, farmers there reported losing 65 percent of their soybean harvest and 20 percent of their corn, tobacco and wheat crops.

In St. Mary's County, the shortage of rain during the summer destroyed 60 percent of the soybeans, 50 percent of the hay and tobacco and 40 percent of the corn.

Pub Date: 1/06/99

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