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Area farmers may get federal drought relief

  • Brad Pfaff, deputy administrator for farm programs with the Farm Service Agency and Jon D. Niedzielski, state executive director for the Farm Service Agency speak during a round-table discussion on local agriculture held Wednesday morning at the Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—Andy Castillo

  • Congressman James McGovern meets with Tim Wilcox and Caroline Pam, owners of The Kitchen Garden farm in Sunderland, Wednesday morning. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Peppers from The Kitchen Garden farm in Sunderland, MA. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—Andy Castillo

  • The Kitchen Garden farm in Sunderland, MA. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—Andy Castillo



For the Gazette
Thursday, September 08, 2016

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Farmers facing financial hardships as a result of this year’s drought soon could receive help from the federal government.

“This is ongoing, and it’s what makes drought unique,” said Brad Pfaff, deputy administrator for farm programs of the Farm Service Agency, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, during a discussion about local agriculture last week at Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.

If drought conditions continue for a little bit longer, Pfaff said, the federal government will open an Emergency Conservation Program, which helps farmers save drought-damaged land and offers low-interest Emergency Farm Loans.

The discussion came during a tour of local farms, including The Kitchen Garden in Sunderland and Bar-Way Farm in Deerfield, by Congressman James McGovern, D-Worcester, and representatives from state, local and federal agencies. McGovern sits on the House Agriculture Committee and spent two days touring farms in his district.

Across southern Franklin County and northern Hampshire County, farmers face crop loss from lack of rainfall and lost man-hours due to labor-intensive irrigation systems. “We need to be looking at this in Washington almost as disaster relief,” McGovern said.

As for state funding, Jason Wentworth, assistant commissioner for the Department of Agricultural Resources, said loans could be available through the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.

On Twitter earlier this month, Gov. Charlie Baker wrote that the state housing office is “working to establish a drought Emergency Loan Fund to aid impacted communities and agricultural businesses.”

For drought to be classified as a natural disaster the region needs to be under Level 2 drought conditions on the National Drought Monitor for more than 30 days, or qualify based on hardship. Officials said that could happen within a week.

Instead of waiting until an emergency is declared, Lori Carver, executive officer with the Farm Service Agency, said farmers should check in with the agency sooner rather than later.