The weird weather that brought a false spring in February, followed by a cold snap across much of the Mid-Columbia and Oregon's Umatilla County, is bringing federal disaster relief for farmers and ranchers.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that is is offering low-interest emergency loans for fruit growers whose cherry and apple crops were damaged by the unseasonal warm-up and deep freeze in five northeastern Oregon counties, as well as Benton, Walla Walla and Columbia counties in Washington.
Hardest hit was Umatilla County in Oregon, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a release Thursday.
Neighboring counties of Grant, Morrow, Union and Wallowa also suffered crop losses because of the odd weather, he noted.
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Frank Snyder, who grows apples and cherries on his 125-acre farm near Benton City, said his crops had "a little damage" related to the February freeze, but the losses were spotty, depending on what areas were exposed to the cold.
Snyder said he had not yet been able to fully assess the entire damage to his cherries and apples.
Franklin County growers fared better with the weather.
Pat Sullivan, who is a member of the Northwest Fruit Commission and farms a couple hundred acres of apples and cherries north of Pasco in Franklin County, said his crops actually did pretty well this year.
"Our cherries came off really well, and apples are looking good so far," he said.
Franklin County is not among the counties on the Agriculture Department's natural disaster area list. But the listed counties have farms that had "significant losses," Vilsack said.
All qualified farm operators in the designated areas are eligible for low-interest emergency loans from the Farm Service Agency, provided eligibility requirements are met.
Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for loans to help cover part of their actual losses. FSA will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability.
The Department of Agriculture has made other programs available to assist farmers and ranchers, including the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE), which was approved as part of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008; the Emergency Conservation Program; Federal Crop Insurance; and the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.
Interested farmers should contact their local USDA Service Centers for further information on eligibility requirements and application procedures for these and other programs.
Additional information is also available online at http://disaster.fsa.usda.gov.
-- John Trumbo: 509-582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org