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Farmers and ranchers in Box Elder County can now apply for emergency loans from the federal government to help cover their losses during what has become the worst drought to grip Utah and much of the western U.S. in decades.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture last week declared drought disaster areas in dozens of counties across a wide swath of western states, making loans of up to $500,000 available to crop and livestock producers in the affected areas.

The eligibility window for Box Elder County opened as part of an announcement declaring natural disaster areas covering all of Idaho, as well as several counties in Utah, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington. Similar declarations have been made for counties in other western states that have been facing record-high temperatures and a historically severe drought in recent weeks.

The relief program, administered by the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, is triggered when what are deemed “severe” drought conditions exist for eight consecutive weeks or “extreme” drought conditions are seen for four straight weeks.

“Emergency loans can be used to meet various recovery needs including the replacement of essential items such as equipment or livestock, reorganization of farming operations or the refinance of certain debts,” a USDA press release stated. “FSA will review the loans based on the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability.”

The loans are being made available to farmers and ranchers who meet certain criteria and can document that they have suffered at least a 30% loss in crop production or physical loss in livestock, livestock products, real estate or other personal property due to drought.

Borrowers must keep acceptable farm records, work with local FSA staff to implement a plan for their operations, and may be required to participate in a financial management training program and obtain crop insurance.

Producers can borrow up to 100% of actual production or physical losses, with a maximum loan amount of $500,000. Interest rates on the loans can vary, and as of July 1 ranged from 1.875% to 3.25%.

Loans for crop, livestock and non-real estate losses are normally repaid within one to seven years, but terms of up to 20 years are sometimes offered under certain circumstances. Loans for physical losses to real estate are normally repaid within 30 years, but can sometimes be extended to as long as 40 years.

Although not specifically designated as a drought disaster area itself, Box Elder County is eligible for the FSA program because it shares a border with Oneida County, one of 14 Idaho counties that are included in the primary disaster declaration area.

In Utah, Rich County received a primary disaster designation, which means that Cache, Morgan, Summit and Weber counties are also eligible as counties that share a border with it.

Farmers seeking assistance are encouraged to visit the websites farmers.gov or fsa.usda.gov/farmloans to find out more about the emergency loans and get started on the application process. The application deadline is Feb. 25, 2022.

Drought disaster declarations are based in part on data measurements from the U.S. Drought Monitor, which currently has more than 98% of Utah classified in its two worst categories: extreme drought and exceptional drought. Nearly two-thirds of the state currently fits into the “exceptional” category, which is the most severe level on the scale. Box Elder County is currently classified in the “extreme” category.

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