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Help is on the way for St. Croix farmers

Governor Jim Doyle requested last month that various parts of the state be designated as disaster areas, including St. Croix County. As a result of that request, the Wisconsin Farm Service Agency is working to provide relief to area farmers who have been affected by the recent drought.

While many residents dealt with browning lawns and water restrictions, the drought has been no small problem to regional farmers.

According to the 2002 census of agriculture by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, there are 1,864 farms in St. Croix County with 232,792 total acres of cropland.

"It is very important that farmers report failed acreage not brought to harvest to their FSA county office prior to destruction," St. Croix County FSA Executive Director Bob Hendrickson said. "This simple act of ensuring that failed acres are documented could be the determining factor in whether or not a farmer is eligible for future crop disaster program payments."

Failed acreage can be reported to the local FSA anytime up until the crop is harvested or destroyed.

Lee Milligan, an agent at the St. Croix County UW Extension Agricultural Service and Education Center in Baldwin, said a drought like this year's totally changes the way farmers manage things. He said the extension held five or six drought meetings in western Wisconsin this summer.

"We had a lot of people attend those," Milligan said.

He said the rain a few weeks ago helped a lot but crop yields will still be significantly depressed. Some older farms have irrigation systems -- the giant sprinkler-like machines people see in fields -- but that those aren't the same as good rain.

Milligan said although they help, "You can't replace rainfall with an irrigation system."

After the governor's request was made, FSA workers began collecting agricultural loss information to create a Damage Assessment Report (DAR). Upon completion, the state executive director will be notified to conduct County Emergency Board meetings and eventual approval or disapproval of the DAR. The DAR will then be submitted to the State Emergency Board for review and processing before submission to the FSA national headquarters.

The final step before official approval of the disaster request is for the FSA Emergency Preparedness and Programs Branch to determine eligibility and prepare a package for the secretary.

The package includes: Previous five-year average production history for the crops and farms listed in the DAR; farm price average for the previous three years for the crops listed in the DAR; and the dates and conditions causing production losses.

When the secretary receives the request, it takes about two to three weeks for it to be approved or denied. At this point, Wisconsin FSA Program Specialist Susan Butler said she doesn't have a timeline for completion, as the organization is still in the process of creating the DAR.

If St. Croix County is officially designated a disaster area, low interest emergency loans will be available to farmers in the affected areas. In the meantime, "hopefully they have insurance, because there isn't other assistance available," Butler said.

Up to 100% of actual production or physical losses can be borrowed, though not exceeding $500,000.

The disaster situation came at a time when State Rep. Kitty Rhoades (R-Hudson) received the "Friend of Agriculture" award from the Volunteers for Agriculture as part of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.

"I'm honored to receive this award for the work I have done to help farmers in Western Wisconsin and throughout the state," Rhoades said. "Agriculture is part of our state's heritage. The role of government is to allow agriculture to adapt to changing markets and meet the challenges of the new millennium."

For assistance or more information on farming services, contact the St. Croix County FSA in Baldwin at 684-2874. The Pierce County FSA in Ellsworth can be reached at 273-5522.

Emergency loan eligibility

  • Must be a farm operator in the designated county
  • Must meet the FSA definition of an established farmer
  • Must be citizens or permanent residents of the United States
  • Must have suffered at least a 30% loss in crop production and/or sustained a physical loss to livestock, livestock products, real estate or chattel property
  • Must have an acceptable credit history, yet be unable to receive credit from commercial sources
  • Must have collateral to secure the loan and ability to repay the loan
  • Must meet all standard loan eligibility requirements

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