Gov. Mills E. Godwin declared a state of emergency in Virginia yesterday after a group of farmers and state and federal agricultural officials told him the state is in the midst of its worst drought since 1930.
The governor announced that he sent a telegram yesterday to President Carter, asking him to declare parts of the state disaster areas. Fourteen counties in Virginia have asked for federal disaster aid and Godwin said the final list may include as many as 42 jurisdictions.
Godwin had requested the meeting yesterday to find out how the drought was affecting individual farmers. The picture they painted was one in which corn is less than knee high, pastures look as if it were February instead of July, feed supplies will last another 30 days instead of through the winter, and livestock must be marketed in heavy numbers because farmers have no feed. Many young farmers with limited financial resources will be ruined, Godwin was told.
The drought was swept through Virginia's agricultural heartland in the west-central and northern sections of the state.
The 14 jurisdications that have asked for disaster area declarations are Clarke, Frederick, Orange, Prince William, Fauquier, Shenandoah, Culpeper, Goochland, Louisa, Rockingham, Madison, Fluvanna, Albemarle and Rappahannock counties.
Among the 28 counties that Godwin said may be added to the disaster list are Loudoun and Fairfax.
Godwin's declaration of a state of emergency was necessary in order for farmers to get federal help, according to Raymond Vaughan, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture and Commerce. By declaring a state of emergency. Godwin also alerted state agencies that they must "gear up" and help drought-ridden farmers in any way possible. Vaughan said.
If Carter declares the countries federal disaster areas as requested, then some farmers will be able to get assistance through an emergency livestock feed program and through grant and low-interest loan programs.
Lindsay Gordon, an Orange County dairy farmer and the chairman of the country's Board of Supervisors, was one of the farmers who met with Godwin.
Gordon, who has been farming for 30 years, said of this year's drought. "I've never seen anything like it. It came so early, our pastures are nil, and have been that way for a month."
He said he normally has about 10,000 bales of hay at this time of year, but he has had only 2,000 this year and he has already had to use half of that to feed his 130 head of cattle instead of saving it for the winter.
He said he usually gets about 20 tons of corn silage an acre. This year, he said, "I may not get one ton."
Gordon, who has kept track of the amount of rainfall, said that since April. Orange County has had two rains of four-tenths of an inch each and two rains of two-tenths of an inch each.
"The streams are drying up, the wells are going dry." Gordon complained. "I will survive some kind of way. But what about these youngsters? It's right expensive when you start out (farming), and unless the banks carry them through. I don't know what's going to happen to them."
Alfred Snapp, a farmer, fruit grower and a member of the state Commerce and Agriculture Board, said his fruit trees are "actually willing and peaches are half the normal size" on his Winchester farm. He said that because of a lack of cattle feed, many farmers are selling their livestock.Recently, one livestock market opened at 1 p.m. and stayed open until 4 a.m. the next morning because so many cattle had been brought in to be sold. Snapp said.
Snapp remembers the 1930 drought. And, to him, the current one is worse,
Part of the problem this year is that there was little rain last winter, meaning this summer's subsoil also is dry. A farmer reportedly told Godwin that undertaker in Culpeper said he had never seen the soil so dry six feet down.
Vaughan, of the state Agriculture Department, said that the government has asked for farm damage assessment reports from all of Virginia's countries. Those reports are expected by Monday, he said.
Godwin an other governors are meeting with Carter today on energy-related matters and Godwin hopes to have a chance to talk with the President about the state's drought problem, Vaughan said.