City seeks farm relief

Published 11:18 pm Saturday, January 7, 2012

Workers bring in the peanut harvest at Bosselman Farms in October. Peanuts were among the few bright spots for farmers this year, as yields were relatively high. The cotton crop, however, was down about 40 percent. The City Council has requested an agricultural disaster declaration to help farmers obtain low-interest loans.

Farmers in Suffolk can expect relief for their crop losses if the federal government heeds a request of City Council.

The body voted last week to ask the governor to declare the city an agricultural disaster area and request federal disaster relief for farmers.

Local Extension agents estimated a 40-percent loss in the cotton crop. Only a 30-percent loss in a single major crop is required to qualify for the declaration.

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“We estimated that on a couple different things — the high heat and humidity the area suffered prior to Hurricane Irene, and the rain-delayed harvest, which affected the qualify of the crop,” said Janet Spencer, an agricultural extension agent in Isle of Wight County.

The hot summer contributed to a condition known as “hard-lock” in the cotton, which occurs when cotton bolls fail to fluff out. Hard-locked cotton is not harvestable, because mechanical pickers cannot get to it, Spencer said.

“This year, the farmers have seen some hard-lock,” she said.

In late August, Hurricane Irene made an appearance and dumped more than a foot of rain across most of the area, followed quickly by Tropical Storm Lee and several other rain events. The wet fields affected farmers’ ability to harvest a number of crops, Spencer said.

Additional losses were estimated at 20 percent for corn and 5 percent for soybeans.

Wind damage from the hurricane also affected all three crops, Spencer said. The total loss for cotton was estimated at more than $5 million, followed by $518,000 for corn and $357,000 for soybeans.

On the other hand, farmers who grew Suffolk’s signature legume likely saw some relief from a better-than-expected crop.

“The peanut crop this year was actually quite good,” Spencer said.

A declaration of an agricultural disaster would allow farmers in the city — whether or not they grew an affected crop this year — to apply for low-interest loans.

The resolution approved by City Council now goes to the governor for him to make the formal request to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The city also requested and received the disaster declaration last year, when about 90 percent of the corn crop and 80 percent of the pasture crop were lost to high temperatures and scant rain.