The federal government agreed Friday to make emergency loans available to ranchers and farmers in 10 southeastern Colorado counties after devastating snowstorms left thousands of cattle dead.
The loans will be available in Baca, Bent, Crowley, El Paso, Huerfano, Kiowa, Las Animas, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties, Gov. Bill Ritter said.
He said family farmers in 10 contiguous counties may be eligible for the loans.
The loans will cover production and infrastructure losses.
A pair of blizzards whipped across southeastern Colorado in December. Wind scattered herds of cattle, driving them for miles and stranding them in drifts up to 10 feet deep, covering watering holes and feed. Officials estimate 10,000 to 15,000 died.
“I’m pushing our (congressional) delegation to do everything possible to assist our farmers and ranchers,” Ritter said in a news release. “The losses will only get worse as more storms hit, as the snow melts and as calving seasons begins. Our livestock are distressed and our farmers and ranchers are at the breaking point.”
Colorado Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President Terry Fankhauser said the loans are a good start but aren’t the full answer. He said typically loans of the sort announced Friday by the USDA are only for farmers and ranchers who are turned down by other lending institutions.
Many ranchers will be able to get commercial loans, but at high rates, Fankhauser said. What would help would be low-interest loans made available to any farmer who needs them, regardless of their ability to obtain credit at market rates, he said.
“This is a first step toward the USDA acknowledging the level of disaster that this blizzard became,” he said. It’s some very basic assistance that certain producers might be able to benefit from.”
Fankhauser said ranchers are expecting heavy losses, not only from replacing dead cattle but from buying feed at a time when cattle normally would graze on the range. With snow blanketing the ground, cattle haven’t been able to graze.
Christi Lightcap, communications director for the USDA in Colorado, said the loans are a safety net and not the full package of help many ranchers are looking for.
“Hopefully, more help is on the way,” she said. “We hope this is going to at least help some ranchers stay above water.”
The governor’s office says the affected area is home to 345,000 head of cattle and calves, 23,500 head of producing sows and 112,000 head of sheep and lambs, with an estimated value of $500 million.
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