Jul 292011

By Teri Walker–

Ranchers and farmers in Navajo County and surrounding areas struggling with lack of forage for their livestock may find relief through a low-interest emergency loan program offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Governor Jan Brewer announced July 22 that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has granted a disaster designation to Arizona counties affected by ongoing drought and related disasters, including the wildfires that have cut through the state this summer.

With the disaster designation, USDA reminded ranchers and farmers of the availability of emergency loans for qualified landowners and permittees in Navajo, Apache, Gila, Graham, Greenlee and Pinal counties.

Gregg Norton, county executive director for USDA, explains emergency funding available right now is to help ranchers and farmers who graze their livestock on privately owned or leased, or state-leased, non-irrigated native rangeland.

To apply for the assistance, qualifying land owners must have previously applied for and purchased coverage through the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, or meet one of three criteria to qualify for a waiver from this requirement. The waiver criteria include being a member of a socially disadvantaged group; being a limited resource producer, which is an income-based designation; or being a beginning rancher, defined as one who has operated a ranch for less than 10 years.

To be considered a limited resource producer, a rancher or farmer must have earned less than or equal to $146,400 in livestock sales in each of the last two years, and had a total household income of less than $22,050 in the same period.

In June, Navajo County sank into “extreme drought” conditions, from its previous designation of “severe drought.” With this designation, qualifying individuals can receive up to three months of payments to supplement range feed for livestock through the national Livestock Forage Disaster Program.

The three-month loan package averages about $62 per animal unit, which is defined as a cow and calf pair. The amount ranchers receive depends upon their pasture value and stocking rates.

Norton explained that even though the summer monsoons have begun, which will fill stock tanks and nourish new forage, the aid remains available because it will take some time to replenish rangelands.

Norton estimates the USDA has distributed about $250,000 to operators in the area so far this season, and expects applications for aid to increase dramatically in the coming months.

“The majority of our moisture, probably 65 to 70 percent, comes during the monsoon season, but we normally have winter moisture to help us,” said Norton. “This year, our winter and early spring moisture was really poor. A lot of areas had leftover forage, but dead forage isn’t as nutritious.”

The aid provided is intended to serve as a bridge until adequate natural forage is available.

“The agricultural production losses and land damage caused by continued drought and the large wildfires this spring and summer has been devastating,” said Brewer. “With low-interest loans being made available with this disaster designation, residents and farm operators will be able to begin picking up the pieces.”

Individuals in Navajo and Apache counties can learn more about the loan program by contacting the USDA Service Center in Holbrook at (928) 524-3214 or 51 W. Vista Drive.