Feds approve drought disaster aid for Az farmers, ranchers
Brewer requested designation making low-interest loans available
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated Maricopa, Pima and several other Arizona counties as disaster areas due to drought that continued in 2011, making farmers and ranchers eligible for low-interest emergency loans.
The agency approved a request from Gov. Jan Brewer that also applies to Coconino, Gila, Pinal and Yavapai counties as well as contiguous counties.
Patrick Bray, executive vice president of the Arizona Cattlemen’s Association, said the decision would provide welcome relief.
“More and more we get better at managing through these droughts, but sometimes they last longer than we expect,” he said.
Sharon Kinnison, farm loan chief for the USDA’s Farm Service Agency in Arizona, said federal officials have provided similar relief for the state each year for more than a decade as the drought has persisted.
The loans can be used to refinance debt from 2011, Kinnison said, but to qualify farmers must be able to prove that they have suffered a 30 percent loss in crop or livestock due to drought.
Steve Manheimer, director of the USDA’s Arizona agricultural statistics field office, said it’s more of a challenge for this state’s farmers to prove harm from drought because they use irrigation.
“Arizona gets declared as a disaster mostly because of forage conditions for livestock and grasslands, not because of crops since they’re irrigated,” he said.
Bray noted that farmers and ranchers who pay insurance under the USDA’s Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program receive funding to offset drought-related losses whether or not Arizona counties are declared disasters.
“Many programs exist to help farmers sustain through droughts,” he said. “A disaster designation from the USDA provides farmers access to additional programs.”