It is a sight farmers don't believe until they see it - a "city slicker" governor coming to the aid of agriculture.
But that's what happened when Gov. Martin O'Malley recently announced a $1 million emergency loan fund to help Maryland farmers whose crops were damaged in this year's drought.
Though $1 million for the whole state may not seem like much, it is a lot more than the federal government is likely to provide after declaring every county in Maryland a disaster because of the drought, agriculture officials said.
There should be enough in the state program for 10 to 15 loans, said Stephen R. McHenry, executive director of the Maryland Agricultural and Resource-Based Industrial Development Corp. The quasi-public economic development organization, established last year to assist farmers, administers the loan program.
After the drought of 2002 - considered one of the worst in Maryland in more than a century - the U.S. Farm Service Agency approved only five loans, for a total of $199,000.
"We will be doing things differently than the Farm Service Agency," McHenry said.
Under the FSA program, a farmer needs two rejection letters from commercial lenders before he can apply for a low-interest government loan.
"That just about eliminated everybody," McHenry said.
MARBIDCO requires a referral from a bank, not a rejection.
"We are not in the business of taking business away from commercial lenders," McHenry said. "If they can make the loan and want to do it, that's OK with us."
To qualify for the state program, farmers must participate in USDA Risk Management Agency-supported crop insurance coverage if it is available for the grower's particular commodity, McHenry said.
The two major grain crops in Maryland - corn and soybeans - are covered by insurance.
Crop insurance typically covers 70 percent to 80 percent of a farmer's crop loss during a drought.
"They could still have significant losses," McHenry said. "Our program could be the difference in putting food on the table or not."
The state program will make loans of up to $75,000 ($150,000 if land is used as collateral) at a fixed 5 percent interest rate.
All loans need collateral, which also could be farm equipment or machinery.
Loans must be repaid within five years, or seven years if land is used as collateral. Interest-only payments can be made until January 2009.
Loans are awarded on a first-come basis.
"If the program is oversubscribed, we will take a hard look at the budget," McHenry said. "If we find more money, we will extend it."
Lynne Hoot, executive director of the Maryland Grain Producers Association, praised the governor's initiative.
"We had some reservations about the governor when he first took office," she said. "He came from the city. What could he know about agriculture? But, so far I'm impressed with his interest in agriculture."
All applications must be mailed by Dec. 15 to MARBIDCO Loan Programs, 1410 Forest Drive, Suite 28, Annapolis, 21403.
Information: MARBIDCO, 410-267-6807, or www.marbid co.org.
An opportunity for farmers - and others - to voice concerns and offer suggestions on agriculture issues is set for next week when the Maryland Agricultural Commission holds a public hearing.
The session is scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 10, at the Montgomery County Extension Office, at the Agricultural History Farm Park, 18410 Muncaster Road in Derwood.
The commission is a 30-member panel made up of a cross-section of farmers that advises the state agriculture secretary on farm issues.
The meeting is part of the commission's agriculture tour of Montgomery and Howard counties.
Ask a gardener
How do you control black spot on roses? When is the best time to reseed and fertilize a lawn? What native plants are best for a yard?
These and other questions posed by plant and gardening enthusiasts will be answered by master gardeners during an open house held by the University of Maryland's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
The event will be held Saturday at the college's Central Maryland Research and Education Center, 4240 Folly Quarter Road, in Ellicott City.
"We look forward to answering a wide variety of plant and pest-related questions," said Georgia Eacker, Howard County master gardener coordinator.
"Our goal is to give homeowners the information they need to beautify their yards and properly care for their indoor and outdoor plants while at the same time protecting the environment," she said.
The event runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is free.