April 05, 2020

Agency helps ease strain of farm losses > Loan work just beginning in wake of snow, ice storms

BANGOR — Arnold Roach, executive director of the Farm Service Agency in Maine, said Friday that his agency’s work “was just beginning this week.

“Even though the disaster is over, we are just starting to assess and deal with Maine’s farm losses,” he said.

The FSA, a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is reaching out to Maine’s farmers with ice storm damage, trying to provide emergency loans and other services.

Jennifer Zweig, director of the Somerset County FSA office, said she expects that some farmers have been so hard-hit they will leave farming.

“This is so disheartening, so tough,” she said. “We had two more barns go down [Thursday], one in Canaan and one in Fairfield. This is happening to farmers who economically already suffer so already.”

Although FSA geared up at the height of the original ice storm, new losses were incurred in southern Maine with a second ice storm, and farmers in northern Maine are experiencing losses because of deep snow, Roach said.

“Requests for help are coming in slowly because so many of the farmers have been busy since the first storm simply surviving,” Roach said Friday. “It’s absolutely understandable that they are desparately trying to get back to normal, and then they will begin assessing their losses and reaching out for help.”

The loans can be used to remove debris in pastures or on cropland, to provide water for livestock, to grade farmland, to restore fences or to restore structures such as barns and shelters.

Roach said emergency loans can help cover production and physical losses in those counties declared disaster areas by President Clinton. Repayment of loans for crop, livestock and other losses ranges from one to 20 years. Loans for physical losses are normally repaid in 30 years, said Roach, but repayment can be extended to 40 years under special circumstances.

In addition, a Disaster Set-Aside program has been established that would allow current FSA borrowers in the Farm Loan Program to move one annual installment of each loan to the end of the loan term.

“The intent of the program is to relieve some of the borrowers’ immediate financial distress and avoid government foreclosure,” said Roach.

USDA Secretary Dan Glickman said last week that FSA personnel are working in affected states, including Maine, to assess damage and match scarce resources to critical needs.

“We responded quickly to requests to help dairy farmers in the worst-hit areas, and we will continue to provide aid to those in need,” Glickman said in a prepared statement.

An immediate need — electrical generators — was met when FSA personnel in Minnesota coordinated National Guard shipments of generators from the Midwest to the Northeast.

Now that electrical service has been restored to all farmers, getting milk production up to where it was before the storm has taken up much of the producers’ time, said Roach. As a result, storm loss assessments over the next few weeks will be critical.

“The farmers simply have not had time to contact us at this point,” he said.

“We are going to start next week making individual farm assessments, surveying as many farmers as we can,” said Roach. “The real work for us will start next week. Through FSA loans we will be able to help them clean the rubble from their fields, rebuild their barns and clear their pastures.”

Roach said another FSA program, the Emergency Conservation Program, can provide cost-share funding for farmers to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disaster.

He said any farmer who qualifies for FSA programs or would like more information on FSA assistance can call the main office at 990-9140 or the FSA in the county where they live.

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