New Mexican farms were devastated by drought conditions spreading across the state and the American southwest in recent decades.
The destruction led the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to identify Eddy County farmers and ranchers as qualified for federal assistance to recoup some of the loss.
Fifteen counties, including Eddy, were listed as “contiguous counties” sharing a border to 12 other counties, including Lea, designated as natural disaster areas.
The designations qualifies impacted farm and ranch operators for Farm Service Agency (FSA) loans to help repair the damages from lost crops, fires and other drought-induced problems.
Eligible farmers have eight months from the date of declaration, March 30, to apply for the loans, read a news release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The FSA considers each application individually, read the release, accounting for the extent of losses, and the applicant’s ability to repay the funds.
“Agriculture-related disasters and disaster designations are quite common,” read a USDA fact sheet. “Many counties in the United States have been designated as disaster areas in the past several years, even in years of record crop production.”
The USDA’s disaster assistance program allows the agency to release federal emergency (EM) loans to counties affected by a natural disaster, read the release.
Other emergency programs have also used the disaster designation to determine funding eligibility.
Eligible natural disasters are incidents when weather conditions, or other natural events that “substantially” affect farmers by causing crop or livestock losses, read the release.
Disasters can include conditions such as excessive rain or drought, high heat or below normal temperatures, and events such as mudslides, tornadoes and tropical storms.
An expedited program was instituted in 2012, records show, to provide increased assistance to victims of drought.
The program automatically designates any area as a disaster if identified for “severe drought” by the U.S. Drought Monitor for at least eight consecutive weeks, read the release.
For other drought designations that do not qualify for expedience, the county must have at least a 30 percent production loss for at least one crop.
Jessica Smith, FSA farm loans specialist said the program is essential to mitigate problems agricultural producers face throughout the year.
A similar disaster designation was issued in 2015 after Winter Storm Goliath collided with the southwest, freezing crops in the desert region and damaging acres of ranch land in New Mexico and Texas.
“Farming is a risky business,” Smith said. “When mother nature deals you a blow that you can’t recover from, (EM loans) come in.”
The program allows the FSA to issue loans up to $500,000 to farmers and ranchers affected by the disaster, able to cover home expenses, even groceries, if applicants can prove the event left them unable to pay for basic needs, and can put up proper collateral for the money.
“The disaster designation is what triggers all of these things,” Smith said. “Every producer is going to be different. They’re all affected, but in different ways. They just have to show their loss.”
She urged any farmers in the impacted areas to visit their nearest USDA farm loan office in either Clovis, Roswell, Las Cruces or Estancia.
“There are deadlines,” said Maurice Portillo, the FSA’s New Mexico outreach coordinator. “That’s the most important part. Let us get you started in the process. This is an effort to ensure our producers can sustain their operations.”
Farmers can also apply for assistance, without needing a disaster designation, through several other FSA programs, read the release, at fsa.usda.gov.
New Mexican counties designated as “primary disaster areas”
Contiguous counties also eligible for aid
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, firstname.lastname@example.org or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.
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