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Isle drought warrants natural disaster designation


Gov. Neil Abercrombie has announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has designated Hawaii County as a primary natural disaster area resulting from ongoing drought conditions.

The governor last month applied for the designation, which clears the way for Hawaii Island farmers and ranchers to apply for available federal relief. Hawaii County was formally designated a natural disaster area Jan. 18, 2012.

“By designating Hawaii County a natural disaster area, President Obama and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have recognized that the island’s farmers and ranchers have endured enough,” Abercrombie said. “Even today, Big Island residents continue to experience drought conditions ranging from severe to extreme. The USDA’s assistance will help hard working families recover losses and see it through until conditions improve.”

“A drought can be as catastrophic as a hurricane or flood to a farmer or rancher,” said Russell Kokubun, chairman of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture. “This disaster assistance is a lifeline for many of our agriculture producers who have been dealing with severe drought conditions for over six years. We truly appreciate this support from the USDA.”

Qualified farm operators in the designated area are eligible for low interest emergency (EM) loans from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) to cover losses. Eligible individuals have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply. FSA considers each loan application on its own merits.

According to the National Weather Service, leeward slopes of Hawaii Island continue to receive little rain. As a result, a classification of “extreme drought” persists in the South Kohala District and Pokakula Region of the Hamakua District.

Increased rainfall has resulted in recent improvement from extreme drought in other areas, but the Ka’u and North Kona Districts remain within severe drought parameters.

Moderate drought remains over parts of the South Kona District. Pastures and general vegetation from Kawaihae to Pohakuloa are described as being in “very poor” condition, and brush fires continue to be a concern.

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