Drought Task Force assesses conditions

Drought affecting wallets of many Maine farmers.

AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) --

The Maine Drought Task Force met Thursday morning in Augusta to assess the drought conditions throughout the state.

The Task Force, comprised of members of the Maine Emergency Management Agency, the National Weather Service, the United States Geological Survey, the USDA, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, and other organizations said the severe drought conditions are spreading north as far as Wiscasset.

“As we heard today, this drought has been building for about three years and it’s not going to go away overnight,” said Bruce Fitzgerald, Director of Maine Emergency Management Agency.

The USDA said York County has already received secretarial designation for federal funding for drought assistance, and that Cumberland County could be next to receive designation.

Farmers such as Lisa Webster said the drought has hurt her pasture-raised lamb population at North Star Sheep Farm.

You’re talking about a loss here of probably $114,000, and that’s just because it hasn’t rained in three months," said Webster. “This is a first, and this is something that we will need help with.”

The National Weather Service reported that northern Maine is above average with precipitation, but most other counties are seeing a deficit, which could improve with increased rainfall in the fall.  For the next few weeks, however, temperatures are expected to be above normal with below-normal levels of precipitation.  

The U.S. Geological Survey reported that groundwater basins in northern Maine are at normal or close to normal levels.  Those in the southern and downeast portions of the state are continuing to drop and are low or very low. 

“We could have rain and it will go right into the rivers. Our streams are doing okay from what we’re hearing today, but we really need groundwater, so we’re looking at a snowy winter – something that will get us back up into the more normal region for next summer," said Fitzgerald.

Representatives from the Department of Agriculture reported that the state’s blueberry and potato crops are doing well, but smaller farming operations are experiencing some difficulties. Aroostook County, for the most part, has an adequate amount of water, but all other counties reported some problems with wells, irrigation ponds and/or crops prompting a reminder of the importance of planning ahead for 2017 water needs. 

“It’s scary when you’re not sure how your crop is going to go. That’s your livelihood," said Tom Gordon of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

The members of the task force said that northern portions of Maine have received enough rain and are not in severe drought conditions.

The Small Business Administration announced that Federal Economic Injury Disaster Loans are available to small business and small agricultural cooperatives affected by the drought in Cumberland, Oxford and York Counties.  The application is available at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has some emergency assistance available for farmers.  They should contact their local office or the state office at 207-990-9140.  

Copyright 2016 WCSH


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