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Disaster declaration benefits farmers

ESCANABA — Farmers, and small businesses affiliated with farmers, in the area may be able to receive financial assistance after the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) declared many counties in Michigan as disaster designated areas due to excessive rain, flooding, and abnormally cold temperatures earlier this year.

“Really the disaster designation gives the farmers access to USDA services designated for disaster resources,” said MSU Educator-Field Crops Monica Jean, said of the announcement.

On June 19, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer wrote a letter to United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on behalf of Michigan farmers. She highlighted the weather conditions farmers worked with up to that time, mentioned ongoing trade disputes, and requested the USDA Secretarial Disaster Designation for all of Michigan. Governor Whitmer also asked for flexibility under the Federal Crop Insurance Program so farmers would be able to get all possible assistance available. In Governor Whitmer’s letter she cited a USDA Crop Progress Report that reported “Michigan had just 3.5 days suitable for field work as of June 9.”

State legislators followed up Governor Whitmer’s letter with one of their own on June 21, supporting the governor.

Perdue made the designation Nov. 19. Through the United States Small Business Administration (SBA) agricultural businesses will be able to receive loans following the Secretary of Agriculture’s disaster declaration. Under the terms of the declaration, the SBA offers a loan program to farm-related and nonfarm-related businesses that suffered a financial burden due to the same disaster.

Middleton Maple Farm in Cornell did not have a good sap-collecting season. The ability to walk with snow shoes from tree to tree to tap, was hindered by the amount of snow that fell last winter.

“We are a small, but very high quality maple producer. Last spring the snow was so deep in the woods we could not get in to tap,” said owner Jim Middleton. “Hoping for a rebound this spring.”

Another concern for farmers is the price of cattle feed, which could go up after the poor growing season.

“Much of the hay crops were poorer quality, and lower yield, due … to the rain delaying the cutting and drying process …,” said Echolight Farm owner Kirsten Tardiff.

Tardiff owns a livestock farm in Rapid River that is free of genetically modified organisms (GMO). Her farm suffered due to the bitter cold and damp weather. Tardiff kept the goats she raises comfortable and well fed, but noticed the cold affected them early in the year.

“Kidding season, when the baby goats are born, took an unusually heavy toll on the dams and I saw reduced milk production early on, as well as some weight loss as they struggled to eat enough to stay warm,” Tardiff said.

Pens holding Tardiff’s livestock flooded often, due to the amount of melting snow and inches of rain that fell, causing damp and dirty conditions in the pens. Increased parasites and diseases, caused by constant moisture, affected her animals and increased her veterinary bills. Ultimately, Tardiff ended up losing a couple animals due to the weather.

“Many friends in the area lost livestock to frigid temperatures, or increased parasite burdens and respiratory or bacterial illnesses,” said Tardiff. “My animal pens were often flooded and almost unusable a times. I had to haul in sand to raise some areas that have been perfectly dry in previous years.”

Other farmers are choosing not to pursue the assistance. In 1999 Dave Anthony purchased his vineyard, Anthony Vineyards, in Bark River after studying everything he could about the type of grapes that could grow in the Bark River area. According to Anthony there are good programs about grape breeding and enology, the study of wine and wine making, in the region. Anthony planned for the weather in the Upper Peninsula, and though the last growing season was tough, he was prepared and decided not seek assistance tied to the recent declaration by the USDA, he said.

Farm Service Agency Farm Loan Specialist Clem Geiger, who works out of the Delta County FSA office in Gladstone, said Delta County was designated a secretarial disaster area because the county as a whole experienced a crop loss exceeding 30 percent due to the excessive rain.

“This disaster designation allows us to provide emergency loans to help Delta County farmers recover from those losses,” said Geiger. “Many times farmers come see us for an emergency loan and discover they are eligible for other programs that are even more helpful to their farm.”

Geiger encourages farmers to go to the Gladstone office and speak with them about their losses.

“It is important for farmers to come talk to us when their farm suffers a loss, because we may have resources to help,” Geiger said.

For more information contact the USDA Farm Service Agency Delta, Alger, Marquette, Schoolcraft Counties office in Gladstone, located at 2003 Minneapolis Ave. #102. Phone number is 906-428-1060.

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