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Jefferson County pushes for drought aid

Julia Botero

Jefferson County hopes to be included in a federal drought disaster declaration in the next week or two. On Tuesday, The U.S. Department of Agriculture listed 15 counties, plus nine contiguous counties, as drought disaster areas.

Jefferson County wasn’t on the list. That surprised Jay Matteson, the county’s agricultural coordinator.

In an update released last week, he said his office has been hearing from farmers about crop loss and a potential shortage of forage feed, and there are worries about groundwater shortages that could stretch into next year.

"I have farms drilling trying to hit water. I have one farm in particular that's told me they've drilled six wells and not hit water."

Matteson said Gov. Andrew Cuomo has already sent a request to the USDA to expand the initial declaration to more of New York’s counties, including Jefferson. He said he asked Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Willsboro) for help in speeding up the process.

The designation makes low-interest loans and other federal programs available to farmers who suffer losses because of the weather.

"Part of it is expected," he said. "You own a business, you run into these things. But if the state and the USDA could provide some financial assistance to help them get through this, that would be huge."

Matteson said area farm leaders are also working closely with state representatives on local drought response.

In the meantime, the county has put together a drought response webpage, listing resources now available.