SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today requested federal disaster assistance for drought-stricken Illinois farmers who have sustained substantial crop losses this year.
In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, Gov. Blagojevich asked for all 102 Illinois counties to be declared natural disaster areas. If approved, the declaration will qualify farmers for USDA assistance programs, including low-interest emergency loans.
“Although our crops are still in fields, reports – even at this early date – show drought losses are great enough to warrant a federal disaster declaration and only will mount without significant rainfall,” Gov. Blagojevich said. “I commend Farm Service Agency State Executive Director Bill Graff and his staff for their hard work to expedite this process and help our farmers become eligible for federal drought relief if they need it.”
A near-record dry spell from March to June stunted crop growth across the state, especially in corn, which received inadequate moisture to pollinate. A paltry 8.5 inches of rain fell during those four months, about half the normal total, making the March through June period the third driest since weather records were first kept in 1895.
“Farmers appreciate the Governor’s quick response,” Illinois Farm Bureau President Philip Nelson said. “Because of high energy prices, farmers have invested in the most expensive corn crop ever, and are now watching it wither in the fields. Even though final assessment of losses won’t be made until harvest, a disaster declaration now is a needed response to a deteriorating situation.”
According to the Illinois Agricultural Statistics Service, the drought is taking a toll on the state's major cash crops. 56% of corn and 33% of soybeans were rated in very poor or poor condition in the Service's latest crop report.
“Losses of this magnitude could cause farmers cash flow problems,” Illinois Agriculture Director Chuck Hartke said. “The emergency loans would help them recover. They can be used not only to pay production costs and refinance existing debt, but also to pay family living expenses.”
Topsoil moisture in Illinois is rated 63 percent very short, 25 percent short and just 12 percent adequate. Conditions are most critical in North Central Illinois, where the National Weather Service classifies the drought as extreme, its second-highest designation. The region, which is framed by the cities of Bloomington, Peoria, Rockford and DeKalb, consists of some of the state’s most fertile farmland, including four of its top six crop-producing counties.
Federal disaster declarations are quite common. In Illinois, the last such declaration was in January of 2004. It included 42 counties in southern Illinois that sustained losses to their soybean crops because of drought.