Gila County farmers and ranchers who've lost crop or cattle production due to the current drought can qualify for as much as $500,000 in emergency United States Department of Agriculture loans, according to Sharon Kinison, farm loan chief for the Arizona Farm Service Agency.
Last week, seven of Arizona's 15 counties and four adjoining counties, including Gila were declared agricultural disaster areas due to drought by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman.
That declaration has freed up emergency, low-interest loans for Apache, Cochise, Graham, Greenlee, Pima, Pinal and Santa Cruz counties. The adjoining counties also eligible for financial aid are Gila, Maricopa, Navajo and Yuma.
The primary qualification for applicants is that they are "family farmers," Kinison said, meaning that family members provide the majority of the labor and all of the management.
"Our loans are not for the big operators that just hire everything out, and the owners are back East somewhere," she said. "But (applicants) do have to be big enough to be considered a commercial operation. And they must have collateral available."
The loans can be for as much as $500,000, but farmers are limited to 80 percent of a production loss, Kinison said. If they suffer a $100,000 loss due to the drought, they'd qualify for a loan of up to $80,000. Cattle ranchers have higher hurdles to clear.
"It's hard to show a drought-related loss in cattle ranching, because usually they are supplemental-feeding or hauling water," Kinison said. "And they have to show a loss of at least 30 percent to qualify."
Depending on what the loans are used for, their terms can range from one to seven years for crops or livestock.
Currently, the interest rate is below the national average at 3.75 percent.
Kinison said there is no set amount allocated to Gila County or any other disaster-impaired area offered aid by the USDA.
"All emergency loan funds, when we have them, are held in Washington. When we get a loan request approved, we submit it to Washington and they fund the loans based on date of application. It's pretty much 'first come, first served' as long as the money holds out.
"When the money does not hold out," Kinison said, "the USDA returns to Congress and asks for more."
Gila County does not have its own USDA Farm Service Agency, but it is served by the Holbrook office.
Anyone interested in obtaining a loan application can call (520) 524-3214, or send a request to 51 W. Vista Drive, Suite 2, Holbrook, AZ 86025.