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Rainfall prompts federal relief request for local farmers

Delaware Public Media

State agricultural officials are hoping to get local farmers some federal relief after spring’s heavy rains destroyed some crops and stymied others from reaching an optimal yield.

Delaware’s Department of Agriculture filed a request two weeks ago with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency’s State Service Center for an emergency disaster declaration. They announced Friday they had filed the request.

The declaration would allow farmers to apply for an emergency loan to help them recover from losses.

Delaware Department of Agriculture Secretary Michael Scuse said because of the rain, “many fruit and vegetable farms have taken a beating and other crops definitely will not be able to reach optimal yields.”

“It is impossible for Delaware farmers to come out of this without emergency assistance,” Scuse said in a statement.

Some farmers have tried to plant corn either three or four times already, he said.

“There’s a lot of money invested in seed and when the bill arrives, they are going to need help paying it,” Scuse said.

Delaware Farm Bureau President Kitty Holtz said she too, has spoken with farmers who have tried to plant crops multiple times. She says she's been hearing a lot about a loss of watermelon acreage. 

"And it’s just so much rain at one time that it’s preventing the farmers from getting back into the field and getting their planting done and moving forward," Holtz said.

According to the National Weather Service of Mount Holly, New Jersey, Kent County saw about 6.5 inches of rain in May. The average for that month is typically around 4.25.

Sussex County saw about 7 inches of rain in May, whereas its average is typically 3.55 for that month.

Credit Data courtesy of the National Weather Service. Graphed through Numbers by Delaware Public Media.
Precipitation for April and May.

And flooding from that rain threatened crop yields, said Stacey Hofmann, a spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture.

“As you’re looking at the fields where there was flooding, there’s no longer corn plants,” Hofmann said. “That’s where the farmers will try and replant, or they might not be able to plant at all, so we know there’s crop losses there.”

After state agricultural officials filed the emergency disaster declaration request two weeks ago, the USDA started surveying crops to see if relief is necessary.

Officials filed a similar declaration for Sussex County in 2017 after receiving heavy rains in July. After receiving approval, some farmers were able to file for emergency loans, Hofmann said.

Updated at 5:20 p.m. Friday, June 22 to include a comment from Delaware Farm Bureau President Kitty Holtz.

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