By Kevin Walker
LANSING, Mich. – Farmers in Michigan may finally get some relief with the new federal disaster designation.
On Nov.19, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer applauded the USDA disaster designation, which identifies 43 Michigan counties as disaster areas and will allow affected farmers to apply for special low interest loans.
Due to the heavy rains that occurred this spring, many farmers were either unable to plant or made the decision not to plant, opting instead to avail themselves of prevented planting insurance, said Tim Boring, vice president of the Michigan Agribusiness Assoc.(MABA).
“It was about heavy rains and just the persistent nature of them as well,” Boring said. “It just never gave the fields a chance to dry. It's not just the volume, but the fact that it came day after day after day.”
Some 30 percent of growers in southeastern lower Michigan did not plant this season. In that area it rained 25 days in May and well more than half the days in May and June. A lot of farmers “just couldn't planting,” Boring said.
“I am pleased the USDA responded to our request and I'm looking forward to the further assessment of those counties not included in this designation,” Whitmer said in a press release. “This relief can't come soon enough for our struggling farmers who endured tremendous hardship throughout this growing season. I am grateful to USDA and our Michigan delegation, especially our Senators, for the leadership they've taken as well to ensure our hardworking farmers receive the assistance and support they need.”
Boring identified Oakland, Monroe, Wayne, Macomb, St. Clair, Genesee and Eaton counties as 30 percent unplanted this season; and Shiawassee, Livingston, Hillsdale, Clinton and Lapeer counties as 20 percent unplanted.
The USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) will administer this program. State FSA Director Joel Johnson said that a lot of farmers come to FSA after a disaster like this only to find out that regular FSA loans are lower interest than the loans available through the disaster designation.
The Direct Operating Loan program, Livestock Indemnity Program and Tree Assistance Program are all programs that offer loans to farmers that have an “even lower interest” rate than those offered through the disaster designation, Johnson said.
Most disaster assistance programs don't require a disaster designation, but the designation “reminds the farming community that assistance is available,” Johnson added. “It's really important for farmers to come visit FSA when their farm suffers a loss, because we may have resources to help. We want to help.”
Although FSA administers these loan programs, the Michigan Dept. of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) “stands at the ready” to provide support to its federal partners as needed, said Jen Holton, a spokeswoman for MDARD. The department has also provided a portal at its web site as a convenient hub for affected farmers to find the resources they need.
The portal provides links to state of Michigan, Michigan State University Extension, as well as federal resources. Go to http://www.michigan.gov/mdard. Look under Hot Topics.