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State requests federal drought relief for farmers

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear on Friday asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide federal aid to drought-stricken farmers in Kentucky.

Beshear sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer, citing crop losses and said farmers have been dealt "a severe setback" with back-to-back years of drought.

"The financial burden of two consecutive years of weather-related disasters could be overwhelming for many of our state's farm families if they do not receive disaster relief," Beshear said.

Hurricane Ike brought much-needed rain to other drought-stricken southern states. Kentucky, however, received only damaging winds.

Beshear said state officials also are evaluating the level of crop damage caused by the hurricane-force winds. He said in a written statement Friday that he may also request federal assistance for those farmers.

"We've had better years," said Sam Hancock of Fulton, who grows corn, wheat and soybeans on his Western Kentucky farm. "We've gone several weeks without rain."

But, Hancock said, last weekend's wind caused heavy damage by blowing down corn stalks, making it more difficult to pick. In some cornfields, he said, up to 80 percent of the corn has been blown over. Corn-picking machines are designed to harvest the ears from upright stalks.

"I would say as far as actual yield loss, it could be as much as 5 to 20 percent," Hancock said.

Don Kirkpatrick, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in Louisville, said the southeastern part of the state is in moderate drought. That's an area south of Lexington extending from Pikeville to Bowling Green.

Kirkpatrick said Bowling Green is 4.22 inches below normal rainfall for the year. Bolstered by spring and early summer rains, Louisville and Lexington have had above average rainfall for the year.

"The rest of the state is just labeled abnormally dry at this point," Kirkpatrick said. "In the last six weeks we have gotten really dry."

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