Drought conditions worsen, federal loan programs could offer help

This summer’s drought conditions have taken their toll on local farmers, ranchers and business owners and though we’re heading into the fall, the dry conditions don’t seem to be ending.

As a result, Madison County has been included in a disaster declaration by the federal government, opening up opportunities for folks to get some assistance.

Last week the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Farm Service Agency announced low-interest loan programs to help producers and business owners who have seen their operations impacted by the drought.

Kevin Wynne, spokesman for the SBA in California, didn’t have specifics on what impact business owners have been experiencing as the drought deepens, but he encouraged every nonfarm business to apply.

“All businesses are strongly encouraged to apply because they may have some economic impact they’re unaware of,” Wynne said.

The program offers loans of up to $2 million at the rate of 4 percent for private businesses and 3 percent for non-profits. The loans are working capital loans to help with things like accounts payable, staffing and other fixed monthly expenses.

So far the program is open to 11 Montana counties including Madison and Beaverhead Counties.

The FSA program is similar in that it offers loans to farmers and ranchers to help restore or replace essential property, pay for disaster year production costs and essential family living expenses, according to a press release promoting the program.

In Madison County, it’s not hard to see how the drought has impacted producers, said Bonita Kober, FSA spokeswoman in Whitehall.

This summer’s hay crops have been dismal and the pastureland hasn’t seen enough rain to produce enough feed for cattle, Kober said. Many ranchers are on the verge of needing to buy hay to feed cows already. Some have already weaned their calves and shipped them to market.

As a result, hay prices are skyrocketing, up to $180 a ton, nearly double what it normally is, Kober said.

“It’s been a really tough year,” she said.

In most years, producers around the area can generally grow enough feed to get their cattle through the winter, said Andrea Sarchet, Montana State University Extension Agent in Whitehall.

However, this year that doesn’t seem to be the case. Some ranchers are already turning their cattle out on winter pastures, she said.

The FSA program can help ranchers with money for hay and pasture if they need to for their herds through the winter, Kober said.

And the forecast seems to indicate cooler temperatures but persisting dry conditions, said Scott Coulston with the National Weather Service in Great Falls.

This year has been historic for dryness in Montana, Coulston said. Some of the drought indicators are getting close to record levels. And it’s gone on for so long.

“We’ve had fire weather watches and red flag warnings out off and on for the last month at least,” he said.

Southwest Montana may see a chance of showers on Sunday, but beyond that the forecast looks dry.

“The significant drought conditions are going to continue for a while at least,” Coulston said.

Disaster loan information and application forms are also available from SBA’s Customer Service Center by calling SBA toll-free at (800) 659-2955, emailing disastercustomerservice@sba.gov, or visiting SBA’s Web site at www.sba.gov/services/disasterassistance.

Producers interested in applying for an emergency loan should contact their local FSA office at 287-3262 ext. 201 to set up an appointment with the Farm Loan Program staff serving your area. For more information, visit the state Web site at: www.fsa.usda.gov/mt.


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