Farmers and ranchers in La Plata County may now qualify for natural disaster assistance as a result of losses and damages caused by the recent drought.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday that farm operations in areas eligible for the Farm Service Agency emergency loans have until January 2019 to apply for loans to help cover losses related to the drought.
Since April, La Plata County has been listed in an “exceptional drought” – the most intense category of drought according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
As of Tuesday, a weather station at the Durango-La Plata County Airport has recorded 1.41 inches of precipitation since Jan. 1, nearly 4 inches below the historic average of 5.38 inches in that same time period.
Southwest Colorado’s snowpack, also as of Tuesday, is at just 3 percent of historic averages. The state as a whole is at 29 percent of historic averages.
Nearly all of Colorado, with exception to the northeast corner of the state, is listed in some form of drought.
The USDA designated seven counties as “primary natural disaster areas” because of drought: Alamosa, Archuleta, Conejos, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Mineral and Rio Grande.
Eleven counties were not deemed natural disaster areas, but farm operations in these counties can apply for emergency assistance: Chaffee, Costilla, Delta, Huerfano, La Plata, Mesa, Montrose, Ouray, Pitkin, Saguache and San Juan.
The news release said Rio Arriba, San Juan and Taos counties in New Mexico also qualify.
It’s unclear why Dolores, Montezuma and San Miguel counties, which are also in the exceptional drought category, were not included on the list. Calls to USDA spokeswoman Latawnya Dia were not immediately returned Tuesday.
The USDA said each loan application is considered on its own merits, “taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability.”
The Farm Service Agency has other programs to help farmers recover from the impacts of drought, the news release said. Interested farmers and ranchers should call their local USDA office for further information.