Escambia one of 7 counties hardest hit by Ida
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced last week that seven Alabama counties — including Escambia — have been designated as primary natural disaster areas due to excessive rainfall created last August by Hurricane Ida and the heavy rains that lingered after the storm passed.
Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Rick Pate announced that the natural disaster designation allows USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) to extend much-needed emergency credit to producers recovering from natural disasters.
The rain-swollen cyclone made landfall August 29, far west of Escambia County, but brought buckets of rain with it as it tracked eastward over the next two-plus days.
According to the National Weather Service, NWS’s Cooperative Observer Network reported 3.91 inches of Ida’s output fell on Atmore. The communities around Atmore were the ones that received the brunt of the almost non-stop precipitation.
The Uriah area was inundated with 4.62 inches of rain from Ida, while a 3.97-inch reading was recorded in Brewton. Southward, areas of Mobile got as much as 11 inches, while Bay Minette was hit with 8.82 inches and 8.3 inches fell on Spanish Fort.
Roads were washed out; crops and topsoil were washed away; and livestock was drowned throughout the state and area.
Other Alabama counties also declared primary disaster areas were Baldwin, Dale, Elmore, Mobile, Montgomery and Tallapoosa. Seventeen others, while not receiving formal disaster declarations, were listed as eligible for FSA credit.
Three Florida counties — Escambia, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa — are also on the USDA eligibility list.
FSA will provide emergency loans from relief funds recently appropriated by Congress for natural disasters that occurred in 2020 and 2021. The recovery funding is a continuation of the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus.
The emergency loans can be used for replacing equipment or livestock, reorganizing farming operations or refinancing certain debts, provided eligibility requirements are met.
Farm operators in primary counties and the listed contiguous counties have until August 8, 2022, to apply for the emergency loans. Farm Service Agency will consider each emergency loan application on its own merit and will take into account the extent of production losses on each farm and the security and repayment ability of each farm operator.
To inquire about eligibility, farmers should contact their respective county FSA office. To help prepare for the application process, potential borrowers can visit farmers.gov and check out the Disaster Assistance Discovery Tool, Disaster Assistance-at-a-Glance fact sheet, and Farm Loan Discovery Tool.
Esther Clegg-Burns, Farm Loans Chief for FSA’s Alabama State Office, said in an email to Atmore News that the interest rate for USDA/FSA disaster loans would be slightly more than 3 percent.
“Disaster declarations trigger the availability of low-interest FSA emergency loans in primary and contiguous counties,” said Clegg-Burns. “The interest rate for emergency loans as of January 1, 2022, is 3.125 percent.”
She reiterated that farmers or ranchers can get their operations back up to pre-Ida levels, and that those who are unable to make the payments could be eligible for relief.
“Emergency loans can help producers replace essential property, purchase inputs like livestock, equipment, feed and seed, cover family living expenses or refinance farm-related debts and other needs,” the FSA official said. “In addition, current FSA direct borrowers who are unable to make their scheduled payments, may be authorized to have certain set-asides.”
Additional information about the emergency disaster loans is available at www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/farmloan-programs/emergency-farm-loans/index.