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USDA declares virtually entire state a disaster

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated 79 counties in Mississippi as primary natural disaster areas due to losses caused by the combined effects of severe spring and fall flooding and summer drought, that occurred March 1, 2009, and continuing.

Farm operators in the other three counties — Kemper, Neshoba and Newton — also qualify for natural disaster assistance because their counties are contiguous.

All counties and parishes listed above were designated natural disaster areas Nov. 13, 2009, making all qualified farm operators in the designated areas eligible for low interest emergency (EM) loans from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), provided eligibility requirements are met. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for loans to help cover part of their actual losses. FSA will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability. FSA has variety of programs, in addition to the EM loan program, to help eligible farmers recover from adversity.

USDA has also made other programs available to assist farmers and ranchers, including the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE), which was approved as part of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008; the

Emergency Conservation Program; Federal Crop Insurance; and the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program. Interested farmers may contact their local USDA Service Centers for further information on eligibility requirements and application procedures for these and other programs.

Additional information is also available online at disaster.fsa.usda.gov.

According to the latest figures, this year Mississippi farmers experienced losses totaling $473 million, or 30 percent of the crop’s value. The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce reported sweet potato producers saw a 63.6 percent crop loss, tops in loss percentage. Soybean growers took the biggest dollar loss – $307 million (44 percent loss).

Perhaps the cruelest blow was dealt to Mississippi’s already-struggling cotton industry. Rising input costs had already dethroned cotton as king, but this year’s disaster is dealing a double blow. Not only are cotton farmers facing a 48.1 percent loss, the important cottonseed crop has seen a 46 percent loss. All total, cotton growers are out more than $100 million.

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