© 2023 Maine Public | Registered 501(c)(3) EIN: 22-3171529
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Maine farmers need help paying for more water sources, state officials say

Maine Drought Potatoes
David Sharp
Fields are covered with flowering potato plants on Sunday, July 19, 2020, near Fort Fairfield, Maine. The vast majority of Maine's thousands of acres of potato farms are located in Aroostook County in northern Maine, which was experiencing the driest summer on record.

State officials are pushing for more resources to help Maine farmers prepare for and respond to drought and climate change.

Maine has experienced four droughts within the last six years. Three of them reached extreme levels on the U.S. Drought Monitor severity scale in various parts of Maine, state agricultural officials told the Legislature earlier this week.

As temperatures rise, droughts may become more severe, putting pressure on farmers to find and pay for new water sources, said Nancy McBrady, deputy commissioner of Maine's Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Additional funds to help farmers pay for new ponds, wells and water storage structures would be transformational, she said.

"Farms are going to require more water sources," McBrady said. "Concurrent with that they need technical assistance and funding for the development of those structures, systems and irrigation water management plans, which are very fundamental to all of this."

State environmental and agricultural officials said they also need additional staff to help farmers more quickly navigate the permitting process for new irrigation systems. The process itself could also be streamlined, as each department has different requirements.

A law approved by the legislature last year created a drought relief program for Maine farmers, but it was never funded. That law, which was initially inspired by stories from farmers grappling with recent droughts, also called for recommendations to improve the permitting process for irrigation systems in Maine's unorganized territories.

McBrady said the governor's latest budget proposal includes $2 million to capitalize the drought relief fund, plus an additional $300,000 each year moving forward.