Drought aftermath leaves farmers seeking relief, disaster designation

Rodney Ferguson said the drought has affected his crops in more ways than one.
Rodney Ferguson said the drought has affected his crops in more ways than one.(WDBJ)
Published: Oct. 29, 2019 at 5:59 PM EDT
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Rain may be on the way, but months of dry weather have left farmers in a disastrous situation across our hometowns. Crop numbers and incomes are falling fast.

Officials in Southwest Virginia are now taking the first steps to bring relief. At a meeting Monday night, the Bedford County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution asking Governor Northam to declare the county a disaster area. Pittsylvania, Botetourt and Roanoke counties are also on that list.

"So that the ones of us who are out here can get some help to buy hay or whatever we may need to get us through to next year," said Rodney Ferguson, a farmer in Bedford County for 32 years.

Ferguson said the drought caused him to use his hay much earlier to feed his livestock, leaving him with an unreliable supply for the winter. He is also a corn and soybean farmer. He said his crop yields have dramatically decreased.

"It is just a bad situation all around," said Ferguson.

According to Scott Baker, an agricultural extension agent in Bedford County, crop yields across the county have been reduced by about 50 to 55 percent because of the drought.

"Their paycheck is determined by the crop they bring in. If that crop is cut by half, their income is cut in half," said Baker.

A locality passing a resolution for disaster declaration is the first step in obtaining any government relief for farmers. The resolutions will now be reviewed on the state level. If approved, farmers will have immediate access to low-interest loans.

According to Baker, an official declaration typically comes from the US Department of Agriculture. In some cases there will be additional funding opportunities or relief programs offered to farmers. Baker is not aware of those opportunities at this point in time; however, farmers would only be eligible for them if the disaster declaration is passed.

"If anything else comes down the road, we want to make sure they are prepared to take advantage of them," said Baker.

With an uncertain winter ahead, Ferguson said he hopes any relief comes sooner rather than later.

"We will do what we have to do to survive and get through this time," said Ferguson. "We just have to hope for a better 2020."

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