Agriculture Board Says Drought Disaster Warranted in Nevada

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Drought conditions in Nevada warrant a request for agricultural disaster relief from the federal government for the second consecutive year, a state emergency board concluded Monday.

"It is extremely dry, and obviously one of the things that happens is the rangeland and native hay has been really impacted," said Roger Van Valkenburg, executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Services Agency in Nevada, and chairman of the state emergency board.

"All 17 counties had losses qualifying and warranting a request, in our opinion," Van Valkenburg said. The disaster finding was made after reviewing damage assessment reports compiled and submitted by county emergency boards, Van Valkenburg said.

He said he couldn't estimate the dollar loss to the state's agriculture industry.

Drought across the western United States has parched crops and forced many ranchers to sell off part or all of their herds, leading to federal disaster declarations in counties in every state in the West except Utah and Arizona, according to the Agriculture Department.

Van Valkenburg said the Nevada board's conclusion will be forwarded to Gov. Kenny Guinn and Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman this week.

Guinn must formally request a disaster designation from the federal government for each affected county.

"There is no question that the state, from Lake Tahoe in northern Nevada to Lake Mead in southern Nevada is in the midst of a difficult drought," Guinn has said.

A disaster declaration would allow farmers and ranchers to apply for up to $500,000 in low interest loans, provided they have suffered at least a 30 percent loss in crop production and meet other eligibility criteria.

"In Elko County, they estimated that the loss on native pasture and range is about 38 percent," Van Valkenburg said.

Damage to native hay and mixed hay crops was about 50 percent, he said.

One exception in Elko County was alfalfa crops, which are typically irrigated by well pumps, he said. No loss was reported there.

That isn't the case in Pershing County, where alfalfa crops are irrigated with water from Rye Patch Reservoir. Farmers there received only about 25 percent of their normal water allocation.

"That's not enough to sustain agriculture in that valley," Van Valkenburg said. "That's the one county where irrigated alfalfa will show a significant loss."

Experts don't know long the current drought, now in its fifth year, will last. The last one, spanning seven years, ended in 1994.

"The region will need to wait until next winter and spring for any significant improvements to the water supply situation," the U.S. Weather Service said this month.


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