Agricultural emergency

Published 8:22 pm Saturday, August 21, 2010

Tough summer: Lack of rain and high temperatures baked area crops this summer and squeezed local farmers in the process. Suffolk leaders asked Gov. Bob McDonnel last week to declare a state of emergency for agriculture to help ease access to federal funds.

Declaration would bring federal help

The City Council Wednesday approved a resolution requesting the governor to declare a state of emergency for agricultural disaster in the city.

If the measure goes through the next several steps, it will summon federal help for farmers in the area.

Watson Lawrence, the Virginia Cooperative Extension agent for Chesapeake and interim in Suffolk, requested the resolution because of the high losses of corn and pasture crops, he said. A combination of sustained high temperatures and scant precipitation caused an approximate 90-percent loss to the city’s corn crop and an 80-percent loss to pasture and grassland. Based on the current market price, farmers in the city lost a total of more than $3.3 million, Lawrence said.

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He added the estimated loss easily surpasses the criteria for agricultural disaster, which is a 30-percent or higher loss on any one major crop. Corn and pasture both are considered major crops, Lawrence said.

The resolution now will be sent to the governor, who likely will order a review by the state Department of Agriculture. That analysis will be forwarded to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which makes the final declaration.

The rain the city received during the past several weeks came too late for the corn and pasture crops, Lawrence added.

“Since that letter, which was dated July 28, we have had some rain in the city of Suffolk,” Lawrence said. “It has brought some relief to the farming community, but it’s entirely too late for those two crops.”

Other crops that mature later could be relieved slightly by the rain.

“We anticipate that cotton will be affected significantly, and that peanuts and soybeans will probably benefit from the recent rains,” Lawrence said. “Peanuts and soybeans will probably fare much better in that the rains have eased some of the drought pressure.”