By Crystal Thompson
The Hill County Farm Service Agency (FSA) in Havre stays busy year-round helping Hi-Line farms and ranches stay alive.
The Hill County FSA administers federal programs to farmers including financial assistance and loan programs geared at keeping local farms viable. Programs include everything from crop disaster protection and assistance to low-interest loan programs.
Hill County FSA Executive Director Mike Zook said that the Farm Service Agency has been heavily involved with local farmers recently, due to the poor moisture conditions that plagued the Hi-Line's crop land last year. The 2001 farm season looks to be another dry year for farmers, which means that more federal disaster programs could be utilized in the coming months.
More than three dozen new farm service programs were developed this year to aid local farmers, said Zook, who added that several other programs have been radically changed to affect qualifications and guidelines for the participants. More than $46 million dollars was spent last year on local farm programs, which is nearly double the amount that the FSA kicks out in an average year, he said.
Zook said that the funds allocated by the FSA not only benefit the individual farming families who receive them, but the entire community. He said that the money received by the farmer is often spent locally to purchase farming equipment or supplies and to pay off local bills. In this way, the FSA is a valuable resource to not just the agricultural community, but to the community as a whole.
One of the more publicized updated programs available through the FSA this year is the Farm Storage Facility Loan Program, which provides low-cost financing for farmers to build or upgrade on-farm grain storage and handling facilities.
The program was recently expanded by the FSA to include structures to store commodities like corn, grain, oats, wheat or barley; even when harvested as other than whole grain. Flat storage structures to store facility loan commodities harvested as dry hay are not eligible for the loans, however.
An interest rate of 5.125 percent was approved for the program in February of this year; this interest rate remains in effect for the term of the loan. Other key changes in the program include a change in the loan amount limit and removal of the provision limiting loans to actions taken during the period of Feb. 2 through May 30, 2000.
New structures that are upright, bunker-type, horizontal or open silo structures designed for whole grain storage or other than whole grain storage and having a useful life of at least ten years are also included in the program. Also eligible under the program are loans for renovating existing storage without an increase in storage capacity and the purchase of safety equipment.
Zook said that the Farm Storage Facility Loan Program has not been utilized locally in past years, but because of the recent changes, he expects more interested parties to apply in 2001.
"Because of the recent rule changes, the program has become a lot more attractive to local farmers," Zook said.
The Farm Service Agency spends millions of dollars every year on its numerous federal programs. Zook said that Production Flexibility Contracts, Loan Deficiency Payments, CRP and various crop disaster programs make up the majority of Hill County FSA dollars spent on local farmers. With programs constantly being updated to better serve the farming community and with federal FSA dollars being put back into the local economy, the future of ag looks bright on the Hi-Line.