State seeks drought declaration
ST. PAUL - Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants the federal government to declare 25 drought-stricken Minnesota counties agricultural disaster areas.
The governor sent a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns Friday seeking the declaration, which would open the door to financial assistance for affected farmers.
"The extremely dry conditions are taking a toll on crops and forages, which are directly impacting Minnesota's farm families," Pawlenty said in a statement.
The 25 counties are Aitkin, Anoka, Benton, Brown, Carlton, Cass, Cook, Crow Wing, Douglas, Hennepin, Hubbard, Itasca, Kanabec, Lake, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Pipestone, Pope, St. Louis, Sherburne, Swift, Todd, Wadena and Wright.
Pawlenty asked Johanns to declare Roseau County an agricultural disaster area due to winter grass kill and early excessive rains.
A federal disaster declaration would allow farmers impacted by the drought to receive low-interest loans to help pay for production costs and living expenses.
In a recent interview, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said he believed Minnesota will receive disaster declarations, but that does not necessarily mean much. Most Minnesota farmers already have crop insurance.
"All that means is low-interest loans, so that doesn't really do anything," said Peterson, the House Agriculture Committee chairman.
Peterson has pushed for a federal permanent disaster relief program, instead of using emergency funds to help when there are agricultural disasters such as a drought or flooding.
A lack of rainfall this summer has left cropland in a large area of Minnesota, from the southwest to the northeast, abnormally dry or in drought conditions.
Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson said while many farmers insure their crops against weather-related disasters, he is concerned about hay shortages and the impact on livestock.
In addition to federal aid, Minnesota can offer two loan programs to farmers in counties that receive the disaster declaration.