For the second consecutive year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture designated Cherokee County a natural disaster area due to drought, Extension Agent Aaron Low said.

“This will allow us to receive federal money alloted for disasters,” Low said. “We were still under a drought disaster declaration in 2011, they just extended it into 2012.”

The designation took effect on Jan. 3 and came after considerations by the USDA of the losses caused by drought, extreme temperatures, high winds and wildfires that occurred throughout 2011.

Forty counties in Texas were designated primary natural disaster areas. The 91 surrounding counties surrounding the natural disaster areas were designated as natural disaster areas.

The designation will allow farmers and ranchers who have sustained losses to apply for a low-interest emergency loan from the USDA Farm Service Agency.

Farmers from Cherokee County will have eight months to apply for loans to help cover their losses.

Michelle King, who is a senior loan officer for eight counties, said qualifying ranchers and farmers can get up to $500,000 in low-interest loans. The loans come with a fixed interest rate of 3.75 percent, which is not adjusted and set by federal regulations.

She said the amount of money available depends on the severity of the losses.

“It depends on the type of loss they've suffered,” she said. “For production loss, a farmer or ranch operation would have to have at least a 30 percent loss from its normal production.”

She said the loans also cover physical losses, in the event that a natural force, such as a wildfire burned a building or killed cattle.

The amount of time required to pay back the loan also varies, depending on the type ad extent of loss.

She said anyone can apply, but the emergency loans do not cover losses incurred by ranchers selling off their cattle herds during the drought.

“That's not a loss, that's a management decision,” she said. “But we do have an operating loan program where we could help somebody who sold their herds to buy back their cattle.”

However, if a rancher has incurred grazing losses, the loan program can look at the normal price of feed versus the cost of feed during the disaster, and if it exceeds a 30 percent increase, they may qualify for an emergency loan.

“The program helps them recover from a hardship they've experienced,” she said. “Whether it's the drought or wildfires, to get back on their feet and reestablish to where they were before all that occurred.

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