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12 Northwest counties declared disaster area

Twelve northwest Minnesota counties, including Beltrami County, were declared a disaster area Thursday by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Kittson, Koochiching, Lake of the Woods, Marshall, Pennington, and Roseau counties were designated as primary natural disaster areas. Beltrami, Clearwater, Itasca, Polk, Red Lake, and St. Louis counties have been designated as contiguous agricultural disaster counties, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Thursday in a statement.

The designation makes farm operators in each county eligible for low-interest emergency loans from the federal Farm Service Agency. The gvernor requested the designation on Sept. 15, due to excessive snow and rain, flooding and unseasonably cool temperatures, that occurred between April 1 and June 30.

"Many farmers in northern Minnesota struggled this year because of difficult conditions," Republican Pawlenty said. "We want to ensure Minnesota farmers who suffered losses earlier this year have access to assistance that will help them manage through this agricultural disaster."

U.S. Sen. Al Franken, DFL-Minn., followed Pawlenty's request with a letter to Vilsack also requesting the disaster area designation.

"I am relieved that Secretary Vilsack recognized the urgency of the situation here on our farms in northern Minnesota," said Franken. "Protecting Minnesota's family farms and farming communities is incredibly important to me."

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., also lobbied Vilsack for the designation, she said Friday.

Farmers in the designated six counties are now eligible to be considered for low-interest emergency loans from the Farm Service Agency and the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program.

The Loss Assessment Report submitted by the counties and approved by the FSA showed that farms in the affected counties experienced crop losses of 30 percent or more due to prevented planting of corn, soybeans, wheat, canola, sunflowers, flax, and barely, Pawlenty said.

Farmers located in the designated counties should contact their local FSA office for more information about the available assistance. This assistance includes FSA emergency loans and the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program, which was approved as part of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008.

Emergency loan funds may be used to restore or replace essential property, pay all or part of production costs associated with the disaster year, pay essential family living expenses, reorganize the farming operation and refinance certain debts. FSA considers each application on its own merit by taking into account the extent of losses, security available, and repayment ability.