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Jefferson County farmers want more drought assistance

Julia Botero
According to the National Drought Mitigation center, Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis Counties are experiencing a severe drought.

A large part of New York state is still in severe to extreme drought. The USDA will now cover the cost of new pipelines and wells for farmers in Jefferson and Lewis Counties to reach more water. But farms in other parts of the state, like the Finger Lakes, are getting more attention.  

Agricultural leaders in Jefferson County say they're worried their farms are missing out on more drought assistance from the federal government.

According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis Counties are experiencing a severe drought. Jay Matteson, with Jefferson County Local Development, says some farms in the area are worse off.

“The damage has already been done to their crops. I have farms that have reported losing 30 to 60 percent of their crops this year, ” Matteson said.

Matteson claims the center’s data is flawed.

A weather station used by the center at the Watertown Airport records rainfall for all of Jefferson County. Twelve inches of rain fell at the airport in the spring and summer.

“Where as in Cape Vincent, 20 miles away, we have weather stations that indicate they’ve received less than 4 inches of rain during that same time period. [That’s a] huge difference.”

Matteson says farms in Jefferson County are missing out on assistance programs available in designated disaster areas. The National Drought Mitigation center labels stages of drought from abnormally dry to extreme on a scale of D-1 to D-4. It takes a total of eight weeks for areas in a severe or extreme drought stage to get disaster assistance.

Matteson says he's not sure the county will qualify. Right now only the southern end is in a D-2 zone.

“I’m very worried that my farms here in Jefferson County aren’t going to receive the assistance that they need even though they’ve received significant crop loss.”

Matteson says he's urging Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Willsboro) to request the USDA take a closer look at the impact of the drought on Jefferson County.

In a statement, Stefanik’s office says they are working to push for a D-3 drought designation from the National Drought Mitigation Center for Jefferson County. According to her staff, Stefanik has written letters to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack asking him to reconsider data from her district and declare Jefferson County in an extreme drought or D-3 stage.