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Paynesville Press - Sept. 10, 2003

Governor asks for disaster aid for drought-stricken counties

Governor Tim Pawlenty announced last week that he will request that 49 Minnesota counties - including Kandiyohi, Meeker, and Stearns - be declared as federal agricultural disaster areas due to the severe drought.

"A month ago, we were looking at a good crop year, and now we're looking at more than a billion dollars in economic loss," Pawlenty said. "A federal disaster designation will enable farmers to tap low-interest loans to help them make it through this rough year."

Pawlenty's request goes to the Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, who has the authority to designate counties as federal agricultural disaster areas.

An informal, preliminary, county-by-county assessment of Minnesota counties conducted by the USDA Farm Service Agency found that 49 of the 87 counties in Minnesota are eligible for emergency assistance and that 95 percent of the cropland has been impacted by severe, unseasonably dry conditions, according to the governor's office.

To be eligible for federal agricultural disaster assistance, a county must have one or more crops sustain a 30 percent or greater loss. The Farm Service Agency will work with each county to formalize loss assessments and submit the data to the state's Division of Emergency Management, which will make a formal application for federal aid.

Counties could be added based on the findings from further assessments. "Forty-nine counties is just an estimate at this point, and that number could very well be higher," said Pawlenty.

The projected loss in crop values in Minnesota is $1.1 billion, nearly a 30 percent loss in value from 2002, said Pawlenty. "We're fortunate that the vast majority of producers have crop insurance for times just like this," said Pawlenty. "But we're hopeful the federal government will provide additional relief for Minnesota farmers affected by these challenging times."

The 49 Minnesota counties identified so far for federal agricultural disaster aid are: Aitkin, Big Stone, Carlton, Cass, Chippewa, Clearwater, Cook, Crow Wing, Dakota, Dodge, Douglas, Faribault, Fillmore, Freeborn, Goodhue, Grant, Kanabec, Kandiyohi, Kittson, Lac Qui Parle, Lake, Le Sueur, Lincoln, Nicollet, Otter Tail, Pine, Pope, St. Louis, Stevens, Swift, Todd, Traverse, Wabasha, Wadena, Waseca, Washington, Wilkin, Winona, Wright, and Yellow Medicine.

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