It’s bad enough farmers in Wasco and Sherman counties have watched their wheat crops go up in smoke this year. Without enough assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, their losses could go beyond crop damage.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, is working to get that help, as are other members of the Oregon delegation.

Walden, the only Republican from Oregon in Congress, wrote to the head of USDA, Sonny Perdue, Wednesday, seeking approval of the state’s request for a disaster declaration and asking for flexibility from the USDA’s Risk Management Agency. The USDA declaration is separate from those issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which provides money to help offset firefighting costs. Among other things, the designation would make low-interest loans available to farmers and ranchers.

The three fires, Substation, Long Hollow and South Valley, had burned more than 130,000 acres in the two counties between mid-July and Friday. The first, the Substation fire, destroyed 31,000 acres of cropland, including 18,500 acres of wheat nearing harvest.

While many of those who lost crops no doubt had crop insurance, that likely won’t be enough to prevent further losses in the immediate future. That’s where a USDA declaration could help.

The USDA disaster designation can also allow cattle ranchers whose rangeland was destroyed to temporarily graze animals on land set aside under the federal Conservation Reserve Program. That would be particularly helpful for ranchers near Grass Valley and Maupin, whose rangeland was burned in June.

Flexibility from the Risk Management Agency could allow farmers to help prevent erosion by planting cover crops in a season when fields are generally fallow. Farmers with crop insurance may need a waiver from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, according to the Capital Press agricultural newspaper. The agency says it’s working to do just that.

Farmers in the two north-central Oregon counties face a variety of challenges as a result of this summer’s fires. A USDA disaster declaration could make meeting those challenges a bit easier.

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