BISBEE — People are calling it the 2020 “nonsoon” as the annual summer rainfall has produced little precipitation to help the agriculture industry in the county.

Due to the lack of spring and monsoon rainfall, the drought across Arizona has resulted in the declaration eight counties, including Cochise, as primary disaster areas by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue earlier this month.

According to a press release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the counties designated besides Cochise were Maricopa, Gila, Graham, Greenlee, Pima, Pinal and Yavapai counties as disaster areas because of the excessively dry conditions. The declaration means agricultural producers in the listed counties who suffered losses caused by recent drought may be eligible for USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) emergency loans.

“This natural disaster designation allows FSA to extend much–needed emergency credit to producers recovering from natural disasters,” Perdue states. “Emergency loans can be used to meet various recovery needs including the replacement of essential items such as equipment or livestock, reorganization of a farming operation or the refinance of certain debts.”

FSA has a variety of additional programs to help farmers recover from the impacts of this drought disaster without a declaration. They include: Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm Raised Fish Program, the Emergency Conservation Program, the Livestock Forage Disaster Program, the Livestock Indemnity Program, the Operating and Farm Ownership Loans and the Tree Assistance Program.

Farmers and ranchers in the designated areas may apply for the emergency loans for up to $500,000 through May 4, 2021. FSA will review the loans based on the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability.

Details about eligibility and how to apply are available on the U.S. Department of Agriculture website or by contacting Arizona’s FSA office.

Elizabeth Rico, Arizona Farm Bureau outreach manager, said the Phoenix area measured at Sky harbor Airport usually gets at least three inches of rain during the monsoon. This year it registered less than one inch.

County Supervisors Ann English and Peggy Judd, whose districts include the predominantly agricultural rural areas of the county were pleased with the USDA’s designation as it represents a way for producers to try to maintain their farms and ranches.

English, who is still hoping for rain for the family ranch, said, “Most of the farmers have not been as impacted by the drought as long as they have working wells. Over time though, drought conditions will severely impact the water storage capacity underground for well pumping.”

“Ranchers have really been impacted because they do not fatten cattle on irrigated fields. They depend on rainfall at regular intervals to keep the native plants growing to feed their cattle. Many ranchers are thinning their herds to the size so they can afford to buy hay and supplements. The cattle are selling for less because so many are hitting the market at the same time.”

This means a loss of money for ranchers who depend on sales for their livelihood, Judd noted.

She contacted John Hart who is the immediate past President of Cochise County Farm and Livestock Bureau. “He said that it isn’t as crucial for farmers, but that he has spoken to ranchers and they need it. Some are weaning their calves early and having to sell more stock than they want. Some are having to cull their older stock. If they don’t get rain by mid-fall there will be no feed for winter and they will not be able to graze. They’ll have to rely on reserves of hay and that is not something all ranchers are prepared for.”

Judd’s son farms in Hidalgo County, New Mexico, and he told her he did not have enough water to finish his crops.

She continued, “Other wells in his area are going dry as we speak and without some good rains pretty soon, won’t have a well next year to grow anything. He said he needs to deepen his well 100 feet, but that costs $28,000, maybe more.”

Unfortunately, the National Weather Service has predicted the La Niña forming in the Pacific Ocean will create fewer fall and winter rains across the Southwest and higher temperatures.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, scientists say there is a 75 percent chance that La Niña will be in place from December 2020 through February 2021.

“During the winter, La Niña typically brings above–average precipitation and colder–than–average temperatures along the northern tier of the U.S., along with below–average precipitation and above–average temperatures across the South. A region of concern this winter will be the Southwest, where a weak summer monsoon resulted in extreme drought,” the website states.

According to the Cochise County Farm Bureau, the county ranks fourth in the state for cattle ranching, third for barley production, fifth for durum wheat and alfalfa hay and is a fast growing vineyard area.

Farmers may contact their local USDA service center for further information on eligibility requirements and application procedures for these and other programs. Additional information is also available online at farmers.gov/recover.