Multiple counties declare drought disaster

Declaration could help farmers get federal aid to recover

BOTETOURT COUNTY, Va. – Drought conditions are improving across much of our area, but that's not stopping counties from declaring a drought disaster.

Roanoke, Botetourt and Pittsylvania counties have all declared disasters.

That means if the state and federal government declare drought disasters, some farmers in the counties may be eligible for money from the federal government to help them recover.

Botetourt County Agriculture Agent Kate Lawrence said that would be especially helpful for farmers who have beef cattle.

"Forty percent of our (hay) grazing capacity is grown in the fall of the year, and because it was so hot and dry through September -- end of August, September and early part of October -- we got almost no fall grazing," Lawrence said. "If the federal government (declares a drought disaster), there could be some grazing assistance and hate assistance for the beef cattle farmers if they're signed up through the FSA office."

Farmers have started to sell off their cattle because they don't have enough hay to feed all of them through the winter and shipping in hay from out of the area is expensive.

For other farmers and growers, like Ikenberry Orchards manager Gwen Ikenberry, a federal drought disaster declaration may not help.

"We've been here almost 130 years. We've never received a penny of aid from any government or locality," Ikenberry said.

Lawrence said, however, there may be a cost-sharing option available for growers like Ikenberry to drill wells next spring or summer if springs and other water sources start drying up as a result of the drought.

"I don't think (the drought) will affect next season. Our biggest thing is the late frost that takes the bloom in the early spring, or if we were to have a hurricane or a hail storm," Ikenberry said.

Some beef cattle farmers won't be so lucky, though.

"It will likely put some farmers out altogether. If they have to sell out, the likelihood they'll buy back in next year would be pretty slim," Lawrence said.

If and when the state and the federal government may declare a drought disaster is unclear.

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