News Column

Santa Fe County Farmers Hurt By Drought Eligible for Disaster Aid

Jan 10, 2013

Staci Matlock

Santa Fe is among 19 drought-stricken counties in New Mexico designated as primary natural disaster areas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Farmers and ranchers in those counties -- plus nine contiguous ones -- qualify for low-interest emergency loans that can help pay production costs, living expenses or planting expenses.

New Mexico's counties were among 597 in 14 states declared disaster areas Wednesday by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack due to drought and heat. It was the 71st time in the last decade that portions of New Mexico qualified for disaster relief because of drought, snow, flood or fire, according to Lawrence Rael, executive director of the state office of the Farm Service Agency.

In 2012, the Department of Agriculture designated 2,245 counties in 39 states as disaster areas due to drought, or 71 percent of the United States.

The department offers low-interest loans with terms of one to 10 years and interest rates from 1.25 percent to 3.1 percent, Rael said. He said the loans are a safety net for producers who've lost crops, land or livestock to natural disasters.

Many farmers already operate on a knife-thin profit margin. One or two bad years can wipe out any savings. In addition, producers have to plan months in advance how many acres to plant with what crop or how many livestock to raise. If they take out a loan, they and the lender are betting on selling enough crops or livestock the next year to pay it back. It is a risky bet, especially in the last few years, when weather patterns have shifted dramatically, affecting water for crops and grazing for livestock, Rael said. Most conventional lenders won't take that bet.

Some producers carry insurance to help them through a disastrous season, but not all.

Last year, producers asked for only $150,000 in disaster-relief loans, and most were from the southeastern or eastern part of the state. No producer in Santa Fe applied for a loan, Rael said. He thinks the number of loan requests could go up this time, since producers are coming off consecutive severe drought years.

The New Mexico counties that qualify for the disaster loans include Chaves, De Baca, Lea, Rio Arriba, Santa Fe, Cibola, Eddy, McKinley, Roosevelt, Taos, Colfax, Guadalupe, Mora, San Juan, Union, Curry, Harding, Quay, San Miguel, Bernalillo, Lincoln, Otero, Socorro, Valencia, Catron, Los Alamos, Sandoval and Torrance.

Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the disaster declaration to apply for emergency loan assistance. For information, call the New Mexico State Farm Service Agency at 761-4900.

Source: (c)2013 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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