MILTON-FREEWATER -- It's official. This year has been a disaster for many local growers.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated Umatilla County as a primary natural disaster area. The declaration is due to crop losses caused by unseasonably warm weather last year followed by frosts and freezing temperatures in November.
"Umatilla County will soon see some much needed federal disaster assistance for its agricultural industry," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a release. "This action provides help to hundreds of producers who suffered significant losses to their apple and cherry crops."
Farmers and ranchers in Walla Walla, Columbia and Benton counties also qualified for natural disaster assistance because those areas are contiguous to Umatilla County.
The designation makes qualified farm operators eligible for low-interest emergency loans from USDA's Farm Service Agency, provided eligibility requirements are met. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for loans to help cover part of their actual losses.
The East Oregonian reported earlier this month that cherry production in Milton-Freewater is down about 60 percent this season due to the early winter and cold spring.