LOVELL — The Lovell Western Sugar Factory District saw a 41 percent total production loss from storms this fall, according to statistics reported to the USDA by Western Sugar.
USDA Big Horn County Farm Service Agency Executive Director Brenda Miller said Rebecca Larson, Western Sugar government liaison, reported that the factory district had a 12 percent reduction in yield and lost 5,062 acres due to frost this season, or a total of 29.3 percent of acreage planted.
Those two losses combined amount to a 41 percent production loss.
Sen. R.J. Kost, R-Powell, reported to the Lovell Chronicle that Park County had a 57 percent production loss, in numbers he stated he received from the USDA Farm Service Agency.
The Lovell Chronicle was unable to confirm Kost’s statistics.
“None of the other counties had that great of a loss,” Kost said.
The crop loss data is being reported amid a push by state officials to urge the U.S. Government to issue a disaster declaration for Big Horn, Park, Laramie, Goshen and Platte counties. On Dec. 5, Governor Mark Gordon wrote a letter to Sonny Perdue, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, requesting the declaration.
“I am writing to you today on behalf of Wyoming producers who are facing extraordinary losses due to unseasonably early and powerful snowstorms,” Gordon wrote. “The first snowstorm, accompanied by uncommon freezing temperatures, occurred on October 8th and 9th, and the second storm occurred on October 13th and 14th. These two storms were separated by warm weather, which further exacerbated damages.”
In requesting a disaster declaration, the state is vying to become eligible for the USDA’s Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Programs Plus.
Under WHIP+, producers who undergo crop losses due to unforeseen disasters receive an initial 50 percent of their total allotment once their application is approved and will receive up to the remaining 50 percent after January 1, 2020.
Payments are based on several factors, including the expected value of the crop, the crop that was actually harvested, and crop insurance coverage and payments, according to the USDA. Farmers without insurance will be eligible through the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.
The WHIP program was started in 2017 to cover losses due to wildfire and hurricane events. The WHIP+ program, which was launched in September of this year, expands that program to cover floods, tornadoes, volcanic activity, snowstorms and wildfires.
But USDA officials are not calling the payments a sure thing. According to Miller, the classification of snowstorm may not include freezing events or wet and cold weather, leaving room for federal officials to parse if they choose to be critical.
According to Lois Van Mark, the Wyoming FSA director, although disaster aid has been set aside by the federal government, it is unclear what funds will be available or set aside for Wyoming if the five counties do qualify for the designation.
“The deal is, we just don’t know. There is a finite amount of money before it’s eaten up,” Van Mark said. “But, it’s no skin off anybody’s nose to collect the losses and the data and send it to D.C. We honestly just don’t know what is going to come of it.”
Van Mark said the USDA has reported to the state government that the losses did come from snowstorm events, which is also what Gordon included in the letter he sent to Perdue.
Regardless of the amount of aid that ends up becoming available, Miller said it’s important to recognize that farmers are suffering, and that will impact the entire local economy.
“(The losses) are such a big impact on our entire ag community,” Miller said. “There’s a lot of people in our area who depend on sugar beets as their crop, and without the sugar beets, it’s not just our ag producers who will be impacted, it will trickle down to the supermarkets and the clothing stores and every sector of our local economy. Farmers won’t have the money to spend.”