Utah to open emergency disaster loan for drought-affected farmers

Tyson Roberts of Roberts Family Farms explains how the drought is affecting his farm in Layton on July 16. A new loan program announced Thursday will help farmers and ranchers in Utah who have suffered losses due to drought this year. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – Although rains in Utah over the past few weeks have reduced the risk of wildfires, they have done little to improve drought conditions or their impacts on farmers and communities. breeders.

Now, drought-affected farmers and ranchers in Utah have a new way to help recoup losses associated with drought. Gov. Spencer Cox and other state officials on Thursday approved a plan to invest $ 5 million in an emergency disaster loan program that would help farmers cover losses from drought in This year.

Under the loan, affected farmers and ranchers can receive up to $ 100,000 from the state to help pay for financial and other losses related to drought, such as feed costs or loss of livestock. . The loans would be repaid in seven years, the first two being interest-free, officials from the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food said Thursday. An agricultural producer applying for a loan would also not be required to provide a guarantee.

“This year has hit farmers and ranchers in Utah hard. We hope that these loans will be a financial bridge that will allow producers to continue their operations so that they continue to benefit not only the rural economies of Utah, but all the people of Utah who value local agriculture. products, ”Craig Buttars, the state’s agriculture department commissioner, said in a statement Thursday.

Recent rains have improved Utah’s drought. In its latest report, the United States Drought Monitor lists about a fifth of the state in “exceptional” drought, which is the worst of the drought conditions on record. This is compared to almost 70% before the monsoon humidity arrives during the summer.

However, 88% of the state remains in at least one state of “extreme” drought, and every part of the state remains at least in a state of “severe” drought. This had a huge impact on the reservoirs. The Utah Department of Natural Resources reports that 31 of its 42 largest reservoirs are below 55% of capacity and the statewide reservoir system is at 50% of capacity.

There are also many reservoirs below 20%, particularly in central Utah. For example, the Gunnison tank is listed as dry while the Piute tank is listed at only 3% capacity. Millsite, Minersville, Otter Creek, and Yuba reservoirs have capacities between 9% and 19%. There are also a few reservoirs elsewhere in Utah – the Echo, Hyrum, Settlement Creek, Steinaker, Upper Enterprise, and Woodruff Narrows reservoirs – listed as less than 20% capacity.

In its report Thursday, officials from the state’s natural resources department wrote that drought conditions have impacted many farmers and ranchers in Utah, reducing crop yields and causing ranchers to move livestock. earlier than usual.

“Drought pressures continue to negatively impact farmers and ranchers in Utah, leading to lower yields and extreme additional expenses for food, transportation and water transportation,” they wrote. “Due to the lack of water and fodder, livestock are being moved from pastures earlier than the statewide average.”

With those terms in mind, Cox and the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunities approved a measure to add $ 5 million to an emergency disaster loan program. The money was transferred from the Industrial Assistance Fund that the state’s office of economic opportunities manages to the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.

Government officials said the loan was necessary because the ongoing drought is endangering “the viability of Utah’s farmers and ranchers and their agricultural and economic productivity.”

“The current extreme and prolonged drought conditions in Utah have been devastating for our agricultural producers,” Cox said in a statement. “These farmers and ranchers need real solutions and we are committed to helping them in any way we can. Authorizing the Go Utah money will provide the help needed to those who really need it.”

The state’s Department of Agriculture will be accepting nominations from farmers and ranchers across Utah starting Monday. Those eligible for the loans include farmers who can prove a loss of at least 50% since May 15 and breeders who can provide proof of loss of death of breeders, replacement cost of breeders sold due to drought or the cost of food purchased. .

State agriculture officials say they will continue to accept applications until April 1, 2022 or until all money in the loan fund is used up.

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