9 East Tennessee Counties in "Crop Disaster Area"

The Department of Agriculture is offering some relief to farmers who need it in those counties. But, farmers say the help they need the most can only come from the sky.

Some farmers severely crippled by drought effects could soon see some relief, but it likely will not cover everything they need.

The United States Department of Agriculture listed Cumberland and Roane counties as "primary natural disaster areas" due to losses caused by the drought.

Anderson, Knox, Loudon, McMinn, Fentress, Morgan and Rhea counties also qualify for natural disaster assistance, because those counties are contiguous.

It was determined to add these counties to the "Crop Disaster Area" list, because of their designation on the United States Drought Monitor.

John Austin with the Farm Service Agency in East Tennessee says most central East Tennessee counties (Knox, Anderson, Fentress) were a "D0" or "D1" drought designation for much of the summer. Those counties were upgraded to "D2" in mid-October.

"We would get just enough rain to make us green again, but it wouldn't last. We aren't as bad as the Chattanooga or North Georgia area, which is why we won't get as much help," said Austin.

Austin said being upgraded to a "D2" category will likely let farmers qualify for federal water aid, but they will likely not qualify for feed aid.

"When people think about a drought they think about crops, corn, beans, wheat type of things, but no one thinks of grass. Grass is a crop cattle farmers rely on," said co-owner of the Knoxville Livestock Center Jason Bailey.

Bailey can have up to hundreds of cows on his property at a time, and he needs both feed and water for a successful business.

"This time of year the grass should be lush, green but it's dry and crusty. It'll crunch under your feet," he said.

Bailey says an increasing number of farmers are coming to their weekly Wednesday auctions because they can't afford to keep their cattle.

"Are we going to go spend a lot of money and go buy feed and hay and haul water to our cows? Or would it make more sense to only keep what we can afford?" said Bailey.

The cattle auctioned at the Knoxville Livestock Center are mainly sold to companies for their meat. Farmers selling off their herd means shrinking their profit, which is what they are trying to avoid.

At the Knox Farmers Co-Op, farmers come in often looking for a way to supplement their lack of hay.

"We're about 10,000-20,000 bails of hay behind," said general manager Lewis Jones.

Between the water and hay shortage, cattle farmers are the most affected by the drought, according to the Farm Service Agency. However, row farmers who plant traditional crops are not exempt from shortages.

"Our bean farmers, our corn farmers you know their yields are down about 40 percent," said Jones.

The help offered by USDA will likely help some farmers, but the real help they need can only come from above.

"If the rain would come that would definitely help everybody," said Jones.

In the meantime, the U.S. Small Business Administration is also trying to help. It announced Thursday that "Economic Injury Disaster Loans" are available to small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture and private nonprofit organizations located in Tennessee.

The loan amount can be up to $2 million, with an interest rate of 2.625 for private nonprofit organizations and 4% for small businesses.

For more information about loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration, click here. To apply for a loan, click here.

The Farm Service Agency office located in East Tennessee is also offering assistance. 

Austin encourages anyone with questions to call the office or stop by. For more information, click here.

(© 2016 WBIR)


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