RI's drought worsens. Here's what Sen. Jack Reed is asking for to help farmers

PROVIDENCE – With a severe drought in nearly a third of Rhode Island, help for farmers should soon be on the way.

The U.S. Drought Monitor has upgraded drought conditions from serious to severe along state's the southern coast, Aquidneck Island and most of East Bay.

The rest of the state remains in the less worrisome classification.

The severe drought classification triggers disaster relief from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is expected to announce a disaster declaration shortly. Even though only parts of the state are in a severe drought, the disaster designation would apply to the entire state, according to Ken Ayars, chief of the state Division of Agriculture with the Department of Environmental Management.

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Sen. Jack Reed sent a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tuesday asking for a disaster declaration for Rhode Island.

For farmers, who have seen fallow fields turn brown, ponds dry up and apple leaves yellow, aid can’t come soon enough.

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Milan Adams kicks at the dusty ground. His farm's first cut of hay was 30% below average, and without some drenching rain soon, he said, they won’t have a second cut.
Milan Adams kicks at the dusty ground. His farm's first cut of hay was 30% below average, and without some drenching rain soon, he said, they won’t have a second cut.

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Federal aid covers a wide range of programs, from compensation for crop loss and emergency loans to assistance with the cost of feed for livestock. The DEM has already provided farmers with emergency relief to dig out irrigation ponds.

“This relief is very much welcome and in keeping with our mission to support farmers,” Ayars said.

Ayars said he is hearing from a lot more farmers during this drought than during the last serious dry spell two years ago.

“It varies across the state,” he said. “I talked to a farmer yesterday who said she is only getting a first cutting of hay. Typically, you get three cuttings. I just got off the phone with a vegetable farmer. He’s lost 80 acres of sweet corn.

“I haven’t heard of any going under,” he said. “Farmers are resilient. They're used to dealing with the ups and downs of weather.”

Map of Rhode Island's drought level

Droughts coming to Rhode Island more frequently

Droughts are cyclical, typically occurring in New England every 10 years. What Ayars has noticed; however, is the droughts are coming every two years.

“The intervals between droughts are shorter,” he said. “Compared to 2020, this is much more significant because it’s following the previous drought. Farmers weathered the last one pretty easily.”

Tuesday’s showers didn’t amount to much – a quarter of an inch, according to the National Weather Service in Norton, Mass.

Since January, Rhode Island has registered 5.2 inches less than normal.

“It took so many months to get here,” said senior meteorologist Frank Nocera. “It will take a few months to get us out.”

Linda Borg covers education for The Journal.

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: RI drought worsens on the southern coast. What it will mean