COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The words "natural disaster" often evoke vivid images of hurricanes and wildfires and the devastated landscapes they leave behind.
But 101 out of 114 counties in Missouri, including Boone County, have been federally designated as natural disaster areas as of Oct. 17, due to drought and excessive heat this summer.
"This sort of thing happens all the time," said Dan Gieseke, farm loan chief for the Farm Service Agency of Missouri.
The natural disaster designation gives farmers access to a special, low-interest emergency loan, but the aging loan program is increasingly under-used.
In 2011 alone, Boone County has been designated a natural disaster area four times by either President Barack Obama or U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
This year isn't exceptional. In four of the past five years, Boone County has received a natural disaster area designation at some point during the year.
Gieseke rattled off the official natural disasters the state has seen this year.
"Well, we had a blizzard in February, then flooding in the Missouri Bootheel, then more flooding along the Missouri River from the Gavins Point Dam (in South Dakota), then the drought," he said. "And now we're considering whether a hailstorm in August in northwestern Missouri qualifies, too."
The natural disaster designation allows farmers who have lost at least 30 percent of their crop yield to apply for low-interest emergency loans to cover damage. In order to qualify for the low interest rate, they must be unable to secure loans from private, conventional creditors, according to Mark Mudd, the Farm Service Agency loan officer for seven Missouri counties, including Boone and Callaway.
There is no requirement that the losses declared by farmers in a disaster area are the result of the disaster in question, Gieseke said. As long as producers live within a designated disaster area and can prove they lost 30 percent of their average crop yield, they can apply for a loan.
It is up to the Farm Service Agency to verify the losses. Many producers have crop insurance, and those companies keep yield records for their customers, so often verification is as simple as checking with the farmer's insurer. But those who don't have insurance turn in self-reported yield records, and Farm Service Agency officers must look at income tax returns and grain receipts to verify their reports.
Mudd said that as far as he knows, Boone County farmers haven't applied for one of these loans since the mid-1990s.