BOSTON /Massachusetts Newswire/ — Governor Deval Patrick is urging United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack to issue a disaster declaration in Barnstable, Berkshire, Bristol, Essex, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth and Worcester counties for agricultural production losses suffered due to this summer’s abnormally cool and rainy weather.
“Weather-related blight is causing significant damage on potato and tomato crops,” Governor Patrick wrote in his letter to the USDA. “I respectfully request that you consider these counties for a Secretarial Designation for production losses due to excessive moisture, flooding, hail and cool temperatures, resulting in late blight.”

June 2009 was the second gloomiest June on record in Massachusetts since 1885, according to the Blue Hills Observatory in Canton. The cool and wet conditions created an ideal environment for destructive pathogens such as early blight, Septoria, and late blight. The state’s farms have seen losses ranging from 30 percent to 100 percent because of persistent inclement weather or disease.

“Our farmers need this shot in the arm to help them recover from the unusually destructive effects of this summer’s weather pattern,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Ian Bowles. “In keeping with the priority he places on Massachusetts agriculture, Governor Patrick has followed this matter closely and has moved quickly to give our farmers the opportunity to benefit from federal relief.”

Excessively wet and cool weather in May, June and July have had a negative impact on growing conditions and production levels of many of the state’s major crops, including yellow corn, strawberries, tobacco, potatoes, and tomatoes. Heavy hail in Berkshire and Franklin County and flooding in Barnstable, Bristol, Essex, Middlesex, and Norfolk also harmed crops. The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR) continues to work with the UMass Extension and with USDA officials to monitor the amount of damage to crop output this season.

“This declaration would help offset the hard punches Mother Nature has thrown at Massachusetts agricultural producers this season,” said DAR Commissioner Scott Soares. “With the Governor’s support and the adaptability of the state’s agricultural sector, I am confident that our farmers will come out on top.”

Governor Patrick’s disaster declaration request covers crop losses that occurred from May 1, 2009 to the present in eleven Massachusetts counties: Barnstable, Berkshire, Bristol, Essex, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth and Worcester. If a federal disaster is declared, farm operators in designated counties that have suffered at least 30 percent production loss due to the harsh weather can apply for low-interest loans from the Farm Services Agency (FSA). Eligible producers may borrow up to 100 percent of the actual production or physical losses, not exceeding $500,000.

For more information on FSA loans click here.

DAR’s mission is to ensure the long-term viability of local agriculture in Massachusetts. Through its four divisions – Agricultural Development, Animal Health, Crop and Pest Services, and Technical Assistance – the DAR strives to support, regulate, and enhance the Commonwealth’s agricultural community, working to promote economically and environmentally sound food safety and animal health measures, and fulfill agriculture’s role in energy conservation and production