Vilsack seeks disaster declaration for 68 counties

DES MOINES (AP) -- Gov. Tom Vilsack is seeking disaster aid for 68 Iowa counties because of drought damage to what was hoped to be a bumper crop and said it's likely additional counties also may need assistance down the road.

Vilsack said Monday he had written to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, asking for a decision within 45 days. A disaster declaration would allow Iowa farmers to obtain low-interest loans and assistance in providing water for livestock.

Last spring, many farmers were looking at a bumper crop with good early season weather and relatively solid prices, Vilsack said. Beginning in early July, rains halted and crops withered in hot late-summer weather. Rainfall in recent days came too late to be of much use.

"Producers throughout the state suffered crop loss and quality damages due to drought and other related impacts," Vilsack said. "This raises the concern(we could see further liquidations of farm operations."

State officials met last week to review county-level reports about damage to crops.


"The reports were significant enough and suggested a far-ranging impact," said Vilsack. "We've had very significant crop damage. Some estimates have suggested that a crop which was scheduled to be a bumper crop, perhaps a record crop, at least a third of it has been downgraded from excellent conditions."

Vilsack said the drought hit farmers at a time when they already were under significant financial pressure and it could break some operations. That pressure has been reflected in the activity on a counseling hot line for rural concerns.

"Calls to the hot line have increased rather dramatically in the past few months," Vilsack said.

The request certainly won't come as a surprise to Veneman. There have been reports of dry weather across parts of the Midwest and such requests are usually approved.

"We've never been turned down," Vilsack said.

While the damage from this year's dry weather probably isn't as bad as previous droughts, the emotional impact is probably greater, the governor said.

"The expectation was so good at the beginning of the crop year," Vilsack said. "The weather in the last 30 to 45 days has turned that optimism into concern."

No dollar value has been set on the damage to crops, and Vilsack said it wasn't likely the dry weather would have a significant impact on state tax collections.

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