- The Washington Times - Monday, August 6, 2007

The hot, dry weather has Loudoun County officials preparing a formal request to Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine for emergency drought aid for local farmers.

The conditions leave farmers scrambling to save summer crops and feed tens of thousands of cattle and horses.

“The grazing grass is gone,” said Larry Rosenstrauch, director of economic development for Loudoun County. “Farmers are dipping into their hay, and that’s getting into short supply.”

“You don’t want animals dying for lack of food, and we don’t expect that to happen,” he said.

Loudoun’s Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote tonight on the aid request.

In Loudoun, grazing pastures are scorched with losses estimated at as much as $20 million.

Loudoun is home to 35,000 head of cattle and 20,000 horses, according to county figures. Farmers also serve a growing market for consumers who purchase locally grown, organic foods.

“A lot of value has been eaten up,” Mr. Rosenstrauch said of the drought conditions.

If Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, declares the county a drought disaster area, Loudoun also could receive federal aid.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, last month asked the federal government for emergency drought assistance for farmers. In Maryland, 17 counties reported that 40 percent to 70 percent of farm crops were lost to drought, officials said.

Western Loudoun communities last month asked residents to voluntarily cut water use, virtually stopping the watering of lawns. Purcellville, Va., imposed mandatory restrictions on water usage beginning July 13, and the level in the reservoir still fell about 20 inches below the required level, officials said.

The hot weather has also kept firefighters busy with twice as many brush and outdoor fires as compared to last year.

In July 2006, Loudoun’s fire and rescue department fought 35 brush and outdoor fires. By comparison, firefighters captured and contained 90 fires last month, including blazes that ruined farm crops.

Fire officials said they are considering extending a ban on outdoor fires, including leaf burning.

“The ban may be extended due to the impact the near drought conditions are having on surface fuels, as they are becoming more susceptible to fire,” said Fire Marshal Keith Bowser.

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