Drought loans available
REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. - Farmers in 56 Minnesota counties will be eligible for low-interest loans to help recover from this summer's drought, but that type of aid could have little impact in the state.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns on Tuesday began his visit to Farmfest, an agriculture trade show in southwestern Minnesota, by announcing 24 Minnesota counties were designated federal agriculture disaster areas. Farmers in 32 adjacent Minnesota counties also will be eligible for the loans.
"Hopefully that will help," Johanns told a crowd of Minnesota farmers.
But Johanns and Minnesota's top federal lawmaker on agriculture issues later agreed the loans may not have a big impact in Minnesota, where most farmers have crop insurance.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty sought the declaration last week.
"Minnesota farmers and ranchers need this help to deal with the effects of a largely hot and dry summer that is challenging their crop and livestock operations," Pawlenty said.
The worst drought ranges from southwestern Minnesota to the northeast. Only northwestern Minnesota was not considered either abnormally dry or experiencing a drought in a recent report.
The counties affected by the disaster declaration are Aitkin, Cook, Kanabec, Sherburne, Anoka, Crow Wing, Lake, St. Louis, Benton, Douglas, Mille Lacs, Swift, Brown, Hennepin, Morrison, Todd, Carlton, Hubbard, Pipestone, Wadena, Cass, Itasca, Pope, Wright, Becker, Cottonwood, Lyon, Redwood, Beltrami, Dakota, McLeod, Renville, Big Stone, Grant, Meeker, Rock, Blue Earth, Isanti, Murray, Scott, Carver, Kandiyohi, Nicollet, Stearns, Chippewa, Koochiching, Otter Tail, Stevens, Chisago, Lac Qui Parle, Pine, Washington, Clearwater, Lincoln, Ramsey and Watonwan.
Farmers in Cass, Grand Forks, Pembina, Traill and Walsh counties in North Dakota could also qualify for the drought-related loans, along with farmers in western Wisconsin's Burnett, Douglas and Polk counties.
"It doesn't do any good," U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson said of the aid program. "When people get in a disaster, they don't need low-interest loans."
Peterson, of western Minnesota's 7th District, said he told Johanns there will be increasing pressure in Congress to approve another round of emergency aid for farmers in disaster-stricken states.
Congress approved similar aid earlier this year for areas affected by drought and flooding in 2005 and 2006.
The situation highlights the need for a permanent disaster aid program, said Peterson, promoting a plan the Bush administration opposes.
"The money just isn't there," Johanns said, claiming such a program could cost up to $5 billion a year.
Pawlenty, who talked to the agriculture secretary Monday, said he doesn't care about how Congress provides help, but he wants to see some federal assistant to drought-plagued farmers.
Forum Communications reporter Don Davis contributed to this story.