By KRISTA CHAMBERS
Capital News Service
LANSING — Farmers in St. Joseph County may receive federal assistance for weather-related crop damage.
St. Joseph is among the 19 counties in the southern Lower Peninsula seeking financial aid because of low rain levels this summer.
At the other extreme, in the Upper Peninsula, 14 counties are seeking assistance because of too much rain.
Gov. John Engler requested the disaster assistance for farmers in a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman.
If losses are confirmed and the request is granted, eligible farmers can seek low-interest emergency loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency. The loans, with an interest rate of 3.75 percent, could reimburse up to 100 percent of weather-related crop losses.
Michigan Agriculture Director Dan Wyant said the request is based on estimates of 30 percent or more loss of at least one crop in each of the included counties.
Wyant said the diverse climates, soils and growing conditions in Michigan make it possible for the state’s agriculture industry, which contributes $37 billion to the state economy each year, to grow more than 125 crops commercially.
However, Wyant said, the varying climate provides challenges as well.
In southern Michigan, rain levels were down more than 2 inches from the normal level because of drought conditions. That caused fruit, vegetable and field crop farmers to suffer crop damages.
Despite the drought, not all farmers in St. Joseph need assistance, said Bill Hogan, a farm loan manager for Farm Service Agency in Centreville.
“Farmers north of U.S. 12 got good rain,” Hogan said. “Just south of Sturgis, it was dry. The closer you got to the Indiana line, the worse it was.”
Hogan said it may be possible for farmers in St. Joseph to seek loans immediately because the county is adjacent to Indiana, which has 72 counties eligible for assistance.
He said he hoped the loans would be available to Michigan farmers by Christmas.
David Girten, a corn, soybean and alfalfa farmer living between Sturgis and White Pigeon, said he won’t need the disaster assistance because his crop yields weren’t down enough.
“Last year, I needed it,” he said. “Also, I was talking to a gentleman last week whose crops were about 50 percent of mine, and he lives six or seven miles away from me. It’s really hit or miss. We got some rain showers here that some other people in the area didn’t get.”
In addition to St. Joseph, counties seeking assistance in the Lower Peninsula include Barry, Berrien, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Eaton, Genesee, Hillsdale, Ingham, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Lenawee, Livingston, Monroe, Shiawassee, Van Buren, Washtenaw and Wayne.
In the Upper Peninsula, all but Menominee County are eligible.
For more information on disaster assistance loans and eligibility, visit www.michigan.gov/mda.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By KRISTA CHAMBERS