While the federal government has approved the dispensation of low interest emergency loans to farmers in Georgia stricken by drought, the reaction of farmers in Newton County to the news has been less than enthused.
At the end of July, the U.S. Department of Agriculture designated 158 Georgia counties (including Newton) as disaster areas due to agriculture damage from the effects of the two-year drought according to a press release from Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Tommy Irvin's office. As a result farmers in Georgia are now eligible to apply for emergency loan assistance from the Farm Service Agency
According to the release, a county must have incurred a loss of 30 percent or more in dollar value for all crops, or of a single crop or group of crops to receive a disaster designation.
While farmers in Newton County have only been eligible to apply for the loan assistance for the past two weeks, few if any have applied for the assistance yet.
Lori-Ann Branch, a farm loan manager with the FSA in Eatonton, whose area includes Newton County, said she hasn't seen much interest in applying for the loans from local farmers.
"A lot of these farmers that have been out there struggling due to the economy and mother nature, they're tired of borrowing money," Branch said. "When you borrow money there's only so much you can pay back. I don't care how cheap the interest is."
Rather, Branch said many farmers are hoping that the federal government will provide some additional program benefits that the farmers won't have to repay.
Brent Galloway, president of the Newton County Farm Bureau and owner of Circle G Farms, agreed with Branch's assessment.
"This emergency loan that they made available, in my opinion it's nice that they're doing it but we don't need any more loans," Galloway said. "We need some disaster relief. We need the government to step in and help us because this is a natural disaster. It's devastated our crops and the way we're trying to make living."
With 200 acres growing wheat and soybeans, 150 acres growing hay and 200 heads of commercial beef cattle, Circle G Farms is one of the largest farms in Newton County. Galloway said that the production of his farm has been greatly harmed as a result of the drought.
According to Galloway, on a normal year he would have cut his first hay crop on June 15 but because of the drought he wasn't able to harvest any hay until Aug. 15. Additionally the amount of hay grown was 50 percent less than a normal yield.
The commercial calves that Galloway raises have been 20 percent lighter than normal he said, on account of fewer grass areas to forage.
While farmers will typically raise their cattle on grass during the summer and feed them hay during the winter, the drought has been terrible for grass growth which has resulted in farmers feeding the hay to the cattle as soon as they can cut it, leaving no hay reserves for winter.
"A lot of people have sold their cattle," Galloway said. "A lot of people are going to have to cut their herds in half to get through it."
Added Branch, "We have a lot of farmers out there that have been struggling. The drought has been horrendous. The forage situation in a lot of the state of Georgia is horrific. There is no grazing, no surplus of hay. What's being bailed now from the first cutting is being eaten as we speak."
Galloway said that he has traveled to Washington, DC to lobby Congress to include farm subsidies in the latest farm bill. While the Congressional delegation from Georgia has been receptive to the concerns of farmers, Galloway said he has basically been informed that for Congress to give more money to farm subsidies, they would have to take it from another program such as the free lunch program, which is also included in the farm bill.
"If they give us money, they're going to have to take it from some other department," Galloway said. "The farmers only get 27 percent of the farm bill."
To apply for a loan
Newton County farmers and ranchers are eligible to apply for a USDA emergency loan if they have suffered at least a 30-percent loss in crop production or physical livestock. They must also have an acceptable credit history, be unable to receive credit from other commercial sources, be able to provide collateral to secure the loan, have the ability to repay the loan and be either citizens or permanent residents of the U.S.
Farmers can borrow up to 100 percent of actual production or physical losses, to a maximum amount of $500,000. Loans for crop and livestock losses are normally repaid within one to seven years. In special circumstances loans of up to 20 years may be authorized. The current annual interest rate for emergency loans is 3.75 percent.
"The money is set up to restore that person to the condition they were in before the disaster," Branch said. "The money can't be used for expansion."
To be approved for a loan, farmers must provide acceptable farm records to the FSA and must operate in accordance with a farm plan they develop and agree to with the FSA.
Branch said that farmers are typically required to turn in records of actual yields for the three years prior to the disaster.
For more information on the emergency loan program call (706) 485-2341 or visit www.fsa.usda.gov.