PE Will Seek Drought Status

Published 4:25 pm Tuesday, July 31, 2012

PRINCE EDWARD – It's been hot and dry in Prince Edward.

How dry?

Dry enough for possible disaster status for the farming community.

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County supervisors took a first step in that process and approved a resolution at their July meeting seeking to have the county declared a drought disaster area.

The resolution reads, in part that “an analysis of crop and livestock conditions in the County of Prince Edward has determined that insufficient rainfalls, coupled with the extremely high temperatures during the months of June and July, have caused significant losses to many crops…”

The resolution highlights that “there are substantial economic losses to the County's corn, hay, tobacco and soybean crops…”

Lockett District Supervisor and dairy farmer Robert “Bobby” Jones, who offered the motion for resolution approval, noted that he knows first-hand “that we are in a dire situation.”

Consider, for example, that corn is looking at a possible 80-90 percent loss.

“Soybeans, at this point, there's a slight chance they might recover, but even that's highly questionable,” according to Eric Bowen, Prince Edward County Extension Agent, Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Add in pasture losses at possibly 40-50 percent, and it has been, and will continue to be a challenging summer for farmers.

“I don't know about Prince Edward in particular. I've been (in) Extension for six years and five of the six years…the counties I've been in, we've had drought declarations,” Bowen said. “This is probably one…out of two, possibly three that have, probably, that we've seen the highest losses out of on the initial assessments.”

While farmers would appreciate any rain (while there has been some, it has been spotty-some farms in Green Bay haven't seen any rain since mid-May), it likely wouldn't help the corn crop at this point. Most of the local corn is grown for silage and some are already cutting what's still available even minus much of the grain.

As for pasture, many cattle farmers are already feeding hay, which could have a potential long-term impact.

“…Unless we see any kind of significant rainfall, the feeding of the livestock is probably not going to change until some time in September,” Bowen said. “That's assuming we get some rain.”

Even with adequate rains for growth, he added, it's going to take 30-40 days for it to be enough forages out there to meet livestock needs.

Still, Bowen cited, the best thing would be for a storm to come where it takes six or seven hours to drop a half, three quarters of an inch of rain and the water goes into the soil versus running off.

Once the County's drought designation process is completed and approved, the action will free up available federal programs to producers in the community.

“Depending on what designations they are and which crops are involved dictates…which insurance programs are initiated,” Bowen said. “Once you get a disaster declaration, there's generally almost always low-interest farm working loans involved with it and there are other programs that can come into play based on what the assessments are.”

The resolution outlines that the County administrator is directed to file with the governor a request that the county be declared a drought disaster area.

Drought Class

Meanwhile, producers interested in some tips on dealing with the drought can participate in a free class offered by the Extension Service at the Buckingham Ag Center between 6-8 p.m. on August 14. The program is primarily for beef producers.

“They'll get two main topics,” cited Cumberland Extension Agent David Smith. “One, what to do with your animals now-how best to conserve your hay and how to make your hay stretch and what to do as far as animal maintenance to kind of minimize the drought damage that is caused. And the second will be on how to better manage your pastures so that you can plan for next year's drought.”

Smith notes that seven out of the past eight years have been drought years and that it's starting to become the new normal.

“And yet we're still managing our pastures the same way we used to do 10 years ago and that's not going to work any more,” Smith said. “So we've got to rethink our strategy on how we handle drought because it's getting to be normal.”

Producers from throughout the region are welcome to attend.