After learning from state officials that many farmers continue to suffer from persistent drought conditions, Gov. Joe Manchin sent a letter Friday to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture requesting disaster assistance for nine West Virginia counties.
Also on Friday, the governor issued a proclamation declaring a natural disaster caused by severe dry conditions for Berkeley, Grant, Hampshire, Hardy, Jefferson, Mineral, Morgan, Pendleton and Preston counties.
The USDA’s West Virginia Farm Service Agency says the nine counties included in the proclamation have reached the threshold of at least 30 percent losses in at least one major crop.
Beginning April 1, dry weather conditions and lack of significant rainfall caused severe damage and losses to farmers in these affected counties.
Crops of concern include apples, peaches, corn, hay, pasture and soybeans. Water supplies for livestock are also worrying farmers and West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Gus R. Douglass.
“I have been informed by Commissioner Douglass that many farmers in our eastern counties are facing significant challenges,” says Manchin. “The dry conditions in early April continue to make things difficult for the hardworking farmers in the state and I am confident that Secretary Vilsack and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will determine that these areas meet the disaster criteria for assistance.”
“This has been an extremely difficult summer for farmers in the Eastern Panhandle,” says Douglass. “Besides the lack of rain, increased temperatures, windy conditions and low humidity have reduced soil moisture to extremely low levels, and livestock are also suffering, as streams and ponds dry up.”
Douglass added that farmers should be on guard against starting fires while working in the fields.
“If they are harvesting corn with a combine, they should consider having a tractor and disk standing by in case a stray spark starts a fire,” says Douglass. “Fire extinguishers should be checked before entering the fields.”
Over the past month, Martinsburg has had only one inch of rain, roughly a third of what it normally receives. The U.S. drought monitor lists much of the Eastern Panhandle in “extreme” drought conditions, joining portions of Louisiana and Hawaii as the driest areas in the country.
On September 7, the governor issued a ban on all outdoor burning in eight counties of West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle due to dry weather conditions. That ban is still in effect until it is rescinded by the governor.
In the past, relief programs have consisted primarily of low-interest loans to farmers.