Lake County gets USDA disaster declaration

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LAKE COUNTY – The US Department of Agriculture has designated Lake and 12 other California counties as primary natural disaster areas due to extreme weather conditions.


The USDA reported that the designations were made on May 9.


Lake County Agricultural Commissioner Stave Hajik said Lake has been designated a disaster area both for drought conditions last fall and for freeze conditions earlier this year.


“The only reason we're a freeze-listed county is we're an adjacent county to a county that has freeze damage,” he said.


Two local strawberry growers and one vegetable grower are believed to have had serious affects from the freeze, said Hajik, but the damage was mostly to equipment, like sprinklers, rather than crops.


Hajik said he applied for the disaster designation for the county in March, after Tim Strong, a local veterinarian and president of the county's cattlemen's association, told him about concerns for the county's rangelands due to the dry fall and winter weather.


Hajik said he did a survey of the county after speaking with Strong, and found that the area's rangelands had indeed been damaged by lack of rain during the period of Dec. 11 through Feb. 7.


Although rain did eventually arrive, it was too late to alleviate the rangelands' dry conditions, said Hajik.


He estimated $661,000 in damage to county ranchers because of the dry weather: of that, $151,000 is for rangelands, $340,000 for damage to hay crops and $170,000 for permanent pasture.


The declarations make Lake County farmers and ranchers eligible to receive low-interest emergency loans, said Erica Szlosek, spokesperson for the USDA Farm Services Agency.


Szlosek said those who intend to apply for assistance have eight months from the May 9 declaration to do so. She said applicants must have had a 30-percent loss to their operation to qualify for the 3.75-percent loans.


Hajik said a “major” dry period in the state in 2002 made it possible for farmers to receive free assistance that they weren't required to pay back.


Strong said effects of the drier conditions can be seen around the county.


For cattlemen like him, the biggest issue is lack of grass.


“We had that real cold weather in January and we didn't have very much rain,” he said.


The last few rains helped a little, said Strong, but he added, “the damage was really already done.”


He estimated that more than 50 percent of the county's grasslands were affected.


Cattlemen who put their cattle on winter range usually pull the cows off a little early to leave some feed behind for the fall, said Strong. Less rain meant ranchers were having to pull their cows off the range even earlier, with even less residual feed left behind. Winter range depends on water for seasonal streams and ponds, as well, said Strong.


The end result is that cattlemen are cutting their grazing season much shorter and having to supplement with more hay, which means a bigger cut out of farmers' bottom lines.


Strong said he believes the full effect of the drier weather will become more apparent next fall, when he expects to see less grass.


In addition to Lake, the counties listed as primary natural disaster areas due to drought and freeze conditions last fall and this spring are Contra Costa, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Mariposa, Merced, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, San Joaquin, Santa Barbara, Stanislaus and Tulare.


Counties contiguous to the 13 primary natural disaster areas also are eligible for assistance. Those counties are Alameda, Amador, Calaveras, Colusa, Glenn, Inyo, Los Angeles, Madera, Mendocino, Mono, Monterey, Napa, Sacramento, San Bernardino, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz Stanislaus, Solano, Sonoma, Tuolumne, Yolo and Ventura.


Lake County farmers and ranchers can call the Farm Services Agency office in Mendocino County in Ukiah, 468-9223, for more information, or go online for forms and information at www.fsa.usda.gov.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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