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LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) - Gov. Rick Snyder has requested federal disaster assistance for farmers across Michigan who are facing substantial crop losses because of extreme weather conditions.
A rare extended period of summerlike temperatures in March caused trees to blossom early, only to be hit by April frosts and freezes.
Farmers and extension agents say the one-two punch has all but wiped out the tart cherry crop, while other orchard fruits such as sweet cherries, apples, pears and peaches have suffered extensive damage.
The governor's request, announced on Friday, is being sent to U.S. Agriculture Department Secretary Tom Vilsack. The letter to the secretary, dated May 25, lists 72 counties out of Michigan's 83 as affected.
It also cites crop damage due to blizzards, hail, tornadoes, flooding, excessive rain and lightning that occurred between Jan. 1 and May 11.
Local apple grower, Brett Anderson, told 24 Hour News 8, April 27 at 6 a.m., was the exact time his apples--and his neighbors'--were damaged. He said growers always plan for some loss, but it's nearly impossible to plan for a year like this one.
"Hopefully we'll never see this again...hopefully my sons will never see this again," said Anderson.
24 Hour News 8 is told the help for farmers--which would be given from the government in the form of loans--should be given if at least about a third of the fruit is damaged in some counties around the state. If a county is declared a disaster area, farmers in contiguous and adjacent counties would be free to apply for aid as well.
"We're talking about 90-95% loss," said Bob Boehm, the Manager of Commodity and Marketing Dept. for the Michigan Farm Bureau. "It's a pretty severe impact. These loans are designed to carry the loss out. [To] give farmers five to seven to 10 years to recover and recoup loss."
Boehm stressed the low interest loans--the only assistance being sought after now--would need to be paid back with interest. He estimated the loan rate would be around 3.75 percent.
The governor says the crop losses currently are estimated at $223.5 million.
If the government decides it's a disaster, the process will begin for farmers to start applying for low interest loans.
However, for most of those loans certain requirements must be met, including having some kind of crop insurance.
Anderson, who is also a local crop insurance salesman, said the basic coverage is called catastrophic insurance. He said the coverage is subsidized by the federal government and costs around $300 per crop per year. Like auto insurance, farmers can purchase more coverage for more money.
"What's gonna happen is for those guys who don't have good crop insurance or no crop insurance, there's a potential they will have no money," said Anderson, who also owns AB Orchards in Sparta.
Anderson said the insurance could potentially cover growers' costs, but for those--like him--who have lost about 90 percent of their crops, there's no chance for profit.
Anderson says federal disaster loan payments typically can take as long as two years to go through the process and government paperwork before farmers will be able to receive some aid.
Local growers say they'll appreciate the help if it comes, but realize it's going to be months, if not years, before they see any of that money.
"[As] an apple farmer we get paid once a year when a crop is harvested, so thankfully we have those payments from last year so this year we're gonna be ok...it's next year when we have no money coming in from this crop that we're really gonna feel the squeeze," said Anderson.
Growers say they do have a small amount of fruit and there will be fruit available at local farmers' markets.
There are also talks about creating a low interest loan program at the state level, which would likely go faster than on the federal level.
Local experts said those loans would likely be through banks, and at an interest level of about one to two percent.
The estimates of the total losses are expected to be finished by July 1. The government will then verify the data and could give growers low interest loans up to 100 percent of their weather-related agriculture production losses.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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