Around Arizona: Drought Designation

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a “drought designation” for 11 Arizona counties. Eligible farmers in the drought designated counties can apply for low-interest loans. Jack Peterson, interim director for the Arizona Department of Agriculture, will discuss the issue.

Ted Simons: The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently issued a drought designation for 11 Arizona counties. Here now to discuss what the designation means to Arizona farmers and ranchers is Jack Peterson, interim director for the State Department of Agriculture. Good to have you here.

Jack Peterson: Thanks for giving me the opportunity.

Ted Simons: You bet. Drought designation for Arizona counties. Explain that for us, please.

Jack Peterson: Basically the federal government kind of tracks things. Then they make a determination at some point in time that we've met severe enough conditions that now you've -- and actually they categorize them D-, different categories. Once you've reached a certain level they will make low rate loans available to those folks affected by the drought.

Ted Simons: Do they measure? Do they dig in the ground to see how dry it is? Do they look at last time it rained, look at history of rainfall?

Jack Peterson: It's like with the National Weather Service where they keep track and we're in our 20th year of drought. They look at those types of things. It's an ongoing monitoring system.

Ted Simons: Looks like they have primary areas and contiguous areas as far as designations. What are we talking about here?

Jack Peterson: It stops at this county line, one of those funny things.

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Jack Peterson: They look at the overall conditions within the counties. Those are the counties that they say, here's your loans available. But because there's another county, it could be an adjoining state that's declared, they will declare the low-income loans can be available for those counties, as well.

Ted Simons: They are there now for Arizona ranchers and farmers, the low-interest loans. How do they apply and prove they need these things?

Jack Peterson: They go to the farm service agency and that's where they would go to get these loans. It's done on an individual basis. They don't have set programs that say you've got to meet this level, or anything like that. You have to work with the agency to show that you have incurred some kind of loss due to the drought.

Ted Simons: So side by side ranches could show different effects and thus qualify for different kinds of loans.

Jack Peterson: Definitely, yes.

Ted Simons: And talk to us about how bad it is. The drought's impact on Arizona, what do you see?

Jack Peterson: It's something people don't think about very often as we look at the rural communities. And it has been devastating. As an urban dweller I look at my plants and know I have to get out and water again. Think about that on a large-scale basis. Ranchers are dependent upon the moisture to have forage for their cattle to feed. Without that they have to buy feed. People say, agriculture, they get all this free stuff, we should worry about that. The agriculture community is what supports, helps, and creates a tax base in the rural environments. And these small communities need that to allow -- I mean, to continue to grow.

Ted Simons: And the financial damage out there, again, what are you seeing? Are we seeing some ranchers and farmers failing because of the drought?

Jack Peterson: I can tell you that the cattle numbers now are the lowest they have been since I believe it's 1953. So that just tells you what an impact it has had on the number of cattle in production right now. That's just one statistic I heard from somebody else just recently. It is -- I drove about a week ago through to Northern Arizona. And you can see the drought. Everything's brown. This is the time of year when we should get some rains or should have had some rains and things are green, but it's brown. That has a tremendous impact on everyone.

Ted Simons: Are there certain ranchers and farmers in certain parts of the state getting hit more than other areas?

Jack Peterson: You know, I can't give an answer for that. I can just talk about the areas I've been and the drought is there.

Ted Simons: Talk about the areas you've been. I know in Northern Arizona its obvious things are bad up there.

Jack Peterson: I drove towards the Snowflake area and they had the devastating fire in that area. You look for the rain to have Mother Nature do its magic and bring things back. But it's brown and gloomy and it's unfortunate. Because we're not seeing that nice spring growth.

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Jack Peterson: And you know, if you are -- if you're dependent upon that for your animals, it has a tremendous impact.

Ted Simons: As far as a declaration is concerned -- and again, that is disaster declaration. A drought declaration, but a disaster declaration because of the drought, correct?

Jack Peterson: Correct.

Ted Simons: One and the same. Did we have one last year? Did we have one the year before?

Jack Peterson: We have had these in past years. Again, what this does is it makes the low-interest loans available. I honestly can't tell you that this is something that people are just jumping for joy on. Farmers are resilient, you know, they figure ways to make things work. And this just allows them another tool to help them survive, which as I stated we should all care about. The rural community, they go out and look at this land every day. Without that, what do we do?

Ted Simons: Are these rural community -- this drought has gone on for an awfully long time. We had torrential downpours a few weeks ago but that's the exception that proves the rule. It is bad out there. Are they planning -- are farmers and ranchers expecting the worst and planning accordingly? What are you seeing out there?

Jack Peterson: Farmers again, not only are they resilient but they are good businessmen or businesswomen. That's one of the things, I wish I had the statistics to throw out at you. But if you look at the efficiency in the water usage the agriculture community has made over the years, how they have improved their water efficiency, and they are doing everything they can to improve that, when they do get into these situations the agricultural community loses.

Ted Simons: You hate to hear it, 11 counties getting the opportunities for the low-interest emergency loans. It's obvious folks need it, thank you for the information. Thanks for joining us.

Jack Peterson: Thank you.

Jack Peterson:Interim Director, Arizona Department of Agriculture;

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