Fed disaster declaration lets La. farmers seek aid

AP News
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Posted: Nov 30, 2009 5:22 PM

A federal disaster declaration announced Monday allows Louisiana farmers affected by early-season drought and late-season rains to seek emergency loans or other aid.

The declaration, covering much of the planting and production year, April through October, affects all but one Louisiana parish. It also allows for farmers in more than two dozen neighboring counties, in Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas, to apply for assistance.

It's not clear how many farmers will qualify for, or take the government up on, its low-interest loan offer.

While the program can be useful, allowing farmers, for example, to pay down higher-interest debt, "the overriding issue there is, it's still another loan they're going to have to pay for years to come," said Kurt Guidry, an agricultural economist with the Louisiana State University AgCenter.

"An emergency loan is essentially there to tide you over until a better year," he said, and can help in securing financing for the next crop year. "In terms of totally saving or making a bad situation great, in most cases, it's not going to do that. ... You will need a better price year to really make a bad situation good again."

The full extent of the year's extreme conditions has yet to be tallied. Some farmers were still trying to salvage crops or complete harvests delayed by seemingly unrelenting rains in September and October. Preliminary estimates showed Louisiana farmers standing to lose $275 million in revenue for all major row crops.

For many producers, this is on top of production losses suffered last year due to hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

"The rest of the United States must understand that the greatest natural resource in this land, second to its people, is agriculture," state agriculture commissioner Mike Strain said.

While he said the declaration will provide access to a number of federal programs, he worries about the lag time in farmers receiving aid and said he supports congressional efforts for "direct, immediate assistance" to producers in hard-hit areas.