- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 20, 2002

RICHMOND Gov. Mark R. Warner has sent a pointed letter to Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman, expressing frustration that requests to issue federal drought-disaster designations have languished in Washington and asking her for prompt action.
The letter, dated Thursday, adds 10 Virginia localities to pending requests for agricultural-disaster declarations for 58 localities because of the lingering drought that has cost millions of dollars to farmers statewide.
"Some of these requests have now been before you since August 6th. Virginia's farms and their families need relief now," Mr. Warner wrote in the two-page letter.
The governor was equally frank about his dismay that the deadline for a federal program to aid livestock producers was set for Sept. 19 the same day the program was announced.
"Your announcement of the program generated considerable interest among Virginia farmers who have livestock and whose operations have been severely impacted by drought and excessive heat," the letter said.
"However, much of the good done by this program was undercut by the decision to announce the program on September 19 and to impose a deadline of that same day. As a result of this arbitrary deadline, only about 45 of Virginia's localities less than half of our agricultural-producing counties and independent cities are expected to be qualified for the Livestock Compensation Program," the governor wrote.
Farmers in many of the state's top livestock-producing localities could not document their losses until after Sept. 19 and won't be included in the program unless Miss Veneman extends the deadline, Mr. Warner said.
"It would be a fair and equitable thing to do and it would greatly benefit Virginia's farmers, their families and our farming communities," he said.
An Agriculture Department spokesman said Friday that agency officials were reviewing Mr. Warner's letter "and we hope to have an answer on the Virginia counties soon."
Virginia and other Eastern states broiled during a summer with almost no measurable rainfall and day after day of record or near-record heat that left corn crops to wither and die beneath an unrelenting sun. Crop losses are expected to exceed $200 million; there is no reliable estimate on livestock losses yet.
Ten Virginia localities have been designated primary disaster areas. They are Bedford, Brunswick, Buckingham, Cumberland, Fluvanna, Goochland, Louisa, Orange, Prince Edward and Rockbridge counties.
But without the low-interest loans farmers can receive under the federal program, some Virginia farms may not make it long, Mr. Warner said in an interview.
"If you've got someone who has lost a crop and they're waiting on that loan, they're going to have cash-flow problems," Mr. Warner said.
The governor, a Democrat, has sought assistance in Congress from Virginia Republicans Sens. John W. Warner and George Allen, as well as Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, the No. 2 member of the House Agriculture Committee and head of its Agriculture Department oversight subcommittee.

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