PROVIDENCE, RI – Rhode Island got some much needed rain today, but drought-stricken farmers need a lot more rain to fall in order to weather this summer’s severe dry spell. Today, they got some federal relief with U.S. Senator Jack Reed announcing that Rhode Island has received a disaster declaration from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has declared all five of the state’s counties — Bristol, Kent, Newport, Providence, and Washington — as primary natural disaster areas due to the 2022 drought. This means farm operators throughout the state that were hit by drought may be considered for federal assistance from the Farm Service Agency (FSA), provided eligibility requirements are met.
The USDA declaration will help ensure all appropriate federal assistance is made available to eligible Rhode Island farmers and agricultural producers who have been negatively impacted as a result of the ongoing drought, including low-interest emergency loans for qualified farm operators.
The USDA drought declaration applies to and was made based on severe drought designations by the federal U.S. Drought Monitor, which uses data from a coalition of national scientists and agriculture organizations.
“This prolonged drought has been tough on many Rhode Island farmers, harming the yield and quality of crops. It’s really important that we support farmers who are feeling the heat of this drought. This federal declaration is good news for the state and should help mitigate some of the production losses local farmers are facing,” said Senator Reed, who sent a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture earlier this month requesting a disaster declaration be granted for Rhode Island. “It was nice to get some rain today and hopefully we’ll see weather patterns return to normal in the near future. In the meantime, the federal government must do its part to help.”
According to data from the National Weather Service, only .43 inches of rain fell on Rhode Island in July, compared to the average of 2.5 inches.
U.S. Drought Monitor uses a five-tiered drought classification system: abnormally dry, moderate, severe, extreme, and exceptional. Currently, the federal agency classifies 99.1% of Rhode Island as experiencing ‘extreme’ drought.
Farmers and producers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the disaster declaration to apply for emergency loans, and can get more information here at Rhode Island’s Farm Service Agency State Office.
Reed also encouraged the state and local governments to utilize federal funds that have already been provided to Rhode Island through the American Rescue Plan Act to help local farmers bounce back from the pandemic and economic hardship. Senator Reed delivered $1.67 billion in federal ‘state and local’ funds for Rhode Island in the American Rescue Plan. Reed also successfully delivered $1.25 billion in flexible ‘state and local’ aid for Rhode Island in the CARES Act to ensure Rhode Island could effectively respond to the pandemic and accelerate strong economic recovery and resilience.