Montgomery County farms to receive $1 million in aid; Drought-assistance plan could serve as state model


DERWOOD -- Montgomery County is offering $1 million in emergency drought assistance to farmers in a program that may serve as a model for the rest of the state.

County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said the program, to begin at the end of September, will give grants to crop and livestock farms to help keep them in business. Without aid, he said, the county could lose part of its 93,000-acre agricultural preserve.

"This doesn't come close to offsetting their losses," said Duncan, standing in the pasture of the county's Agricultural History Farm Park. "But we don't want farms to become like this. It's lovely but it's a park."

Jeremy Criss, who oversees the county's agriculture services, said the program is being watched by other jurisdictions, like St. Mary's County, that want to help preserve farms.

Farmers at the news conference said the county's grant is especially welcomed as they struggle to secure federal and state loans.

They said the drought has forced them to tap reserves or delay equipment repair and maintenance of their fields.

George Lechlider, a Montgomery farmer and a director of the Maryland Farm Bureau, said the money will be most helpful to younger farmers.

"Older farmers, like me, have their land paid for. The younger ones are struggling to make it. A low-interest federal loan doesn't help when you don't have money to pay it off," he said.

To qualify for a low-interest federal loan, a farmer must first be rejected by three lending institutions, a time-consuming process when bills are due, Criss said.

Montgomery, the state's most populous county, has 526 farms, which contribute $285 million annually to the local economy and employ 10,000 people. County officials estimate they suffered $15 million in losses this summer.

Montgomery had a less extensive assistance program in 1997 in which 67 farmers sought financial help.

Pub Date: 9/08/99

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