Farmers in nine North Carolina counties are eligible for relief from the federal government in recouping weather-related losses suffered in 2002.

In response to a letter from Gov. Mike Easley, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman declared Beaufort, Camden, Carteret, Currituck, Hyde, Pamlico and Pasquotank counties as primary disaster areas for excessive rain that plagued farmers starting Oct. 10, 2002. The rain made harvesting crops difficult, and many crops were ruined in the field as a result.

Farmers in 10 additional counties are also eligible to apply for disaster benefits because they are contiguous to the primary disaster counties. These include Craven, Dare, Gates, Jones, Martin, Onslow, Perquimans, Pitt, Tyrrell and Washington counties.

Veneman also designated New Hanover and Onslow counties as primary disaster areas for the drought that occurred from April 1, 2002, through Dec. 31, 2002. This is in addition to 89 counties that were declared disaster areas in November. Five contiguous counties, Brunswick, Carteret, Duplin, Jones and Pender, are also eligible for benefits.

“We appreciate the federal government for responding to our request for help for these counties,” said interim Agriculture Commissioner Britt Cobb. “This declaration gives farmers in these counties more financial options after an extremely difficult year.”

The disaster declaration makes qualified farm operators in the declared counties eligible for low-interest emergency loans from the Farm Service Agency. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for the loans to help cover part of their actual losses.

Interested farmers should contact their local Farm Service Agency for further information on eligibility requirements and application procedures for these and other programs.

Farmers can find additional information online at http://disaster.fsa.usda.gov.