Drought is driving farmers to the brink across the state, but especially in Jefferson County where most farmers just didn’t plant crops on half their land due lack of water.
Central Oregon Daily News visited with a Madras area farmer who hopes to receive some assistance from a recently approved 98 million dollar drought relief package.
Despite recent snow in the mountains, much of Oregon remains mired in exceptional drought.
The Oregon State Legislature has taken notice and is sending millions to assist farmers, especially in Jefferson County.
“If you can imagine, even if you are working for wages, if your hours are cut in half or you are a business owner and your revenue is cut in half,” said Kevin Richards, owner of Fox Hollow Ranch. “That’s basically what the farmers in this area faced.”
Richards is among hundreds of farmers who received less than half their usual water allotment last summer.
That means he and many other farmers grew half their usual crops, made half their usual revenue and have no way of recuperating their losses if the drought continues.
The drought relief package includes $40 million in forgivable loans for farmers and $10 million for farm workers who missed work due to extreme heat, wildfire smoke or other drought-related reasons.
Millions more will be distributed to small farmers, irrigation districts and soil conservation districts.
“The stewardship on fallowed lands will help us cover some costs that we wouldn’t have otherwise incurred and for which we have no revenue to offset. And we are looking at the forgivable loan program to see if it will work for us,” he said.
Richards says the effects of the drought are ongoing.
Crops that were lost last year due to lack of water, extreme heat and wildfire smoke will have to be reseeded and that’s if there’s enough water.
“If anyone has livestock that they are trying to feed right now, my guess is they understand the impacts of the drought in terms of the availability of feed and the price. Demand is very high and supplies are almost non existent right now.”
The drought relief funds will arrive to irrigation districts first because they have shovel-ready water efficiency projects.
The forgivable loans to farmers and financial aid to help farmers manage their fallowed lands will take more time because the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and Oregon Department of Agriculture have to develop rules to distribute funds.