Governor seeks federal drought relief

Friday, August 8th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Gov. Brad Henry has asked the federal government to declare most of Oklahoma a disaster area because of drought-like conditions that have damaged crops and livestock grazing areas.

``The heat and dry weather have really taken their toll on Oklahoma farmers and ranchers,'' Henry said Thursday. ``They're very important to the Oklahoma economy, and it's critical that we get them assistance to ensure their operations remain productive for many years to come.''

In a letter sent Wednesday to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Venemen, Henry asked for a disaster declaration in 62 counties, covering most of the state, except the eastern border and the northeastern corner.

A disaster designation would clear the way for low-interest federal loans and would allow ranchers to tax-defer some of the income gained from selling cattle where parched grazing land will no longer support the animals, said state Agriculture Secretary Terry Peach.

Last month was the fourth driest July on record for the state and damage has been reported to cotton, corn, grain sorghum, peanuts, soybean and alfalfa. The arid conditions have also affected streams and farm ponds, making it difficult to get water to livestock.

Peach had no dollar estimate for the damage.

``We've lost a tremendous amount of our hay crops for the summer,'' he said. ``The early crop was good, but now we are seeing hardly any hay production.''

Other dryland crops that haven't received the rain they need to thrive are summer milo, soybeans, peanuts and cotton.

Peach said he has visited wilted fields of cotton.

``They should be just like your yard, green and lush,'' he said.

Henry has asked federal farm service agencies to conduct natural disaster damage assessment reports in the affected counties.

``We'll do everything we can to expedite that work and get farmers and ranchers the help they need as soon as possible,'' Henry said.

From March 1 through July 28, the state-averaged rainfall is 13.12 inches, 5.29 inches below normal, according to the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. The south-central area of the state is nearly 8 inches below normal and the southeast area is nearly 9 inches below normal.

As of July 21, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued disaster declarations this year for 781 counties in 27 states, for a variety of adverse conditions.

The Oklahoma counties named in Henry's request include Alfalfa, Atoka, Beaver, Beckham, Blaine, Bryan, Caddo, Canadian, Carter, Choctaw, Cimarron, Cleveland, Coal, Comanche, Cotton, Creek, Custer, Dewey, Ellis, Garfield, Garvin, Grady, Grant, Greer, Harmon, Harper, Hughes, Jackson and Jefferson.

The other counties are Johnston, Kay, Kingfisher, Kiowa, Latimer, Lincoln, Logan, Love, Marshall, Major, McClain, McIntosh, Murray, Muskogee, Noble, Oklahoma, Okfuskee, Okmulgee, Osage, Pawnee, Payne, Pittsburg, Pontotoc, Pottawatomie, Pushmataha, Roger Mills, Seminole, Stephens, Texas, Tillman, Washita, Woods and Woodward.