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Published: Saturday, 2/22/2003

Area farmers in line for U.S. drought assistance


Government aid will cover half of the losses from last summer's drought for some hard-hit farmers under a $3.1 billion agricultural assistance bill signed into law this week.

Much to the dismay of environmentalists, the money comes from a conservation program lawmakers promised last spring when the farm bill was approved.

The disaster assistance is expected to give many large area farmers tens of thousands of dollars, but will require those who accept the aid to buy crop insurance for the next two years.

It allows farmers to receive aid based on losses either last year or the year before. Last year's drought led to the worst yields of many local farmers' careers, while 2001 was just as bad for some, especially east of Toledo.

Farmers are unlikely to see the cash before late spring or early summer.

Government officials and economists said yesterday it was too early to predict how much Ohio and Michigan might get from the aid package. But experts said northwest Ohio will get the bulk of the aid within the state.

Local farmers are expected to share in $2.1 billion to be given to those whose yields were more than 35 percent below normal. Most of that will be given to producers of corn, soybeans, and cotton.

For instance, a farmer with 1,000 acres of corn who normally harvests 150 bushels and suffered a 40 percent loss, would have lost $144,000. The government appears likely to give such a farmer about $72,000.

“It does not offset their losses. This is not a make-someone-whole situation,” said Matt Roberts, an agricultural economist at Ohio State University. “If you've suffered this sort of a loss, you're not worried about buying a new truck this year. You're worried about staying in business.”

The other $1 billion in disaster assistance is for smaller programs and affects few area farmers. It includes money for producers of tobacco, cottonseed, citrus and lime trees and provides $250 million for the government to buy surplus fruits and vegetables for schools and food banks.

The crop disaster aid package for 2001 and 2002 is less than several previous years. In 1998 a similar package totaled $2.8 billion, in 1999 it was $1.2 billion, and in 2000 it was $1.9 billion.

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