|By ANN HINCH
LIVINGSTON, Tenn. — Overton County is just one of 25 Tennessee counties USDA Secretary Mike Johanns approved for low-interest emergency loans to aid with agricultural losses from drought this summer.
The announcement came earlier this month, a little over a week after Gov. Phil Bredesen wrote requesting federal disaster assistance for eight counties – including Overton – and about a month after a similar request for six other counties. Overton and Pickett counties, bordering Kentucky in northern Tennessee, fall under the same Farm Service Agency (FSA) director, Jerry Flowers.
Though the situation in Overton has improved since August – “The fall (hay) cutting will be fair,” Flowers reported – Pickett’s northern half is still arid, with only spotty precipitation. “This year, it was in the wrong place for rain.”
That seems to be the story for about half of Tennessee, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor maintained through the University of Nebraska National Drought Mitigation Center (http://drought.unl.edu/dm/index.html). Though there are northern counties experiencing problems, the entire southern half of the state is rated abnormally dry to moderate drought.
Franklin County was among the first six for which Bredesen, on advice of reports from county FSA offices, requested federal help. Located on the Alabama border, Franklin has suffered particularly in this summer’s drought, with heavy-majority losses of corn, early soybeans, hay and pastureland.
County FSA Director Lester Hayes said one farmer estimated as much as a $500,000 loss from his 1,400 acres of corn alone. Some late-planted soybeans may make a comeback if sporadic showers continue, but farmers trying to sell early-planted beans have reported rejection for low oil content and tiny size.
“We’ve got low-interest loans,” he said of the USDA disaster assistance, “but the majority say they can’t handle that.” He added this year, as yet, there are no federal low-yield or hay/pasture assistance grants available, and that he understands Congress is waiting on final row-crop harvest to make that determination.
Tennessee FSA Executive Director Louis Buck said farmers may borrow the full amount of their loss that insurance will not cover, at a loan rate of 3.75 percent, if they’ve suffered at least a 30 percent loss. For example, if a farmer anticipates a $20,000 income from corn but has lost half his crop and insurance will only cover $5,000 of that, he can borrow the other $5,000 through the federal loan pool.
“That’s buying you some time,” Buck explained of the stopgap loan. “It might not get you out of the hole.”
This is especially true of cattle producers, many of whom in affected counties have had to feed hay since mid-summer that they were saving for winter. In Overton and Pickett counties, Flowers said 2005 was actually a more arid summer than this year; as a result, while this year’s cuttings aren’t great (and there may not be a second cutting in Pickett), last year’s losses made for few hay reserves anyway.
The bright side is he does not know of any producers having to sell livestock in order to make ends meet. Hayes cannot say the same.
Some producers were selling animals more than a month ago and he said several have moved through their culled cattle and may need to dip into main herds. (This is on top of heavy poultry losses in the county, due to heat earlier this summer.)
So far, the only non-loans to Tennessee farmers were early counter-cyclical crop payments to cotton and grain sorghum growers.
Johanns announced $780 million to help American farmers in late August – approximately $700 million was for such early payments. The rest was for livestock losses and a grassland conservation program, neither of which was designated in Tennessee.
The other 22 counties named for assistance in Tennessee are: Anderson, Bradley, Campbell, Coffee, Cumberland, Fentress, Giles, Grundy, Hamilton, Lincoln, Loudon, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe, Moore, Morgan, Polk, Putnam, Rhea, Roane and Scott. Four others – Bledsoe, Cannon, Dekalb and Warren – which Bredesen requested on Aug. 28, were still awaiting a decision at press time.
To apply for a loan, contact a county FSA office; the counties are listed online at www.fsa.usda.gov/tn/county.htm
This farm news was published in the Sept. 20, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.