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Drought disaster declaration set in Fremont Co.

Jul 19, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

Fremont County farmers and ranchers impacted by damages due to drought can qualify for emergency federal loans and potentially other aid programs under an announced disaster declaration for the area.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack wrote to Gov. Matt Mead in a July 16 letter about Fremont and Sublette counties receiving designations as primary natural disaster areas.

Vilsack stated that Fremont and Sublette counties have suffered from a D2 severe drought designation for at least eight consecutive weeks, or a D3 extreme drought label at any time during the growing season.

The ratings come from data recorded by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Because of the primary designations for Fremont and Sublette, the contiguous counties of Carbon, Hot Springs, Lincoln, Natrona, Park, Sweetwater, Teton and Washakie can also qualify for aid under the announcement.

Andrea Bryce Warren, Farm Service Agency's Fremont County executive director, said the designations can help area farmers and ranchers hit by drought this year.

"It means that if we do get disaster programs, we will be eligible," Warren said in an interview on Thursday. "In other words, we're waiting to see what programs become available."

Under the designation, emergency loans are available through Farm Service Agency. The Department of Agriculture recently reduced interest rates on emergency loans to 2.25 percent from 3.75 percent.

"FSA will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability," according to a statement from the federal department.

Warren, during a meeting with county commissioners earlier this month, noted drought impacts experienced in the area.

She said officials estimated irrigated crop loss in the county to be 25 percent.

Range loss is 90 percent in the South Pass area and 70 percent in the sprawling area including the Wind River Indian Reservation, Dubois, Crowheart and Lander.

For other areas in the county, the grazing loss is about 50 percent, Warren said.

While irrigated crops should fare well, "I think the areas of South Pass and Lander, and especially places that were hit with grasshoppers, I think they are even going to have a harder time," Warren said Thursday.

Some ranchers are expressing concern about the lack of hay available in the county, she said, noting a recent conversation with a livestock producer.

"He was real nervous. He can't find any hay to buy, and he was nervous about that," she said. "He didn't have the hay production he needed and there were no pastures."

She said this season's first-cutting of hay "sold immediately," while the second round sold before it has been produced.

Much of the hay produced in the county travels out of state for consumption, Warren said.

"We're fortunate in Fremont County we do grow such high-quality hay. A lot of it is dairy quality hay, and unfortunately a lot of cattle guys can't afford dairy quality hay," she said.

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