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Federal authorities designate seven counties in Mass. as ‘natural disaster’ areas in wake of July floods

Ron and Bernie Smiarowski looked at a flooded potato field in Northfield, inundated by the Connecticut River.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Federal officials have designated seven counties in Massachusetts as “primary natural disaster areas” stemming from losses caused by heavy rains and flooding that walloped the region between July 9 and July 16, Governor Maura Healey’s office said Tuesday.

The federal Department of Agriculture’s declaration covers Berkshire, Bristol, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, Norfolk, and Worcester counties and allows farms to apply for low-interest loans and refinance existing loans, Healey’s office said. It also allows farms to use “a cost-sharing program for debris and clean-up costs” after natural disasters.

In addition to the counties designated as primary disaster areas, Healey’s office said that “contiguous counties” are also eligible for aid, including Dukes, Middlesex, Plymouth, and Suffolk.


Ashley Randle, commissioner of the state’s Department of Agricultural Resources, said officials estimate 110 farms across 2,700 acres were affected by the severe weather, totaling $15 million in losses.

“We’re grateful to the Biden Administration for issuing this designation that provides more opportunities for farmers to receive assistance as they rebuild from this devastation,” Randle said in a statement. “Our administration continues to be on the ground meeting with farmers and supporting in any way we can.”

More information about assistance for farmers is available here.

“Massachusetts farmers should know that their government has their backs. We’re grateful to Secretary [Tom] Vilsack and the Biden Administration for expanding options for farms to get help after so many of them were devastated by heavy rain and flooding this month,” Healey said in a statement.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Cambridge Democrat, lauded the federal assistance.

“This USDA disaster declaration means immediate federal support for Western Massachusetts farmers ravaged by recent flooding, but we must do much more to invest in rural communities,” Warren said. “Unlocking this federal funding will make a difference in farmer’s monthly bills through refinancing options at lower interest rates, and I’ll keep fighting hard for family farmers to thrive as an integral part of the state’s rural economy.”


US Senator Ed Markey, a Malden Democrat, said the disaster declaration will “unlock resources to help farmers and their families rebuild.”

“But this is only the first step,” he said. “We need to match the resilience of these communities with climate resilience so we can better protect farmers and our food systems for generations to come.”

In July, Healey and the United Way of Central Massachusetts announced a new fund-raising effort for farms in Western Massachusetts that were devastated by the torrential rains. The United Way will distribute funds through a selection process to ensure farmers can begin their recovery as soon as possible, according to the Healey administration.

Three to 9 inches of rain fell on the Pioneer Valley region amid the downpours, causing the Connecticut River to swell up to 20 inches in some areas. Flooding damaged at least 2,000 acres of crops such as potatoes, corn, tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, and tobacco.

The storms came as farmers were only a week or two away from harvesting, costing them crops that they had poured time, money, and labor into all season. The damage could prevent farmers from a second harvest this season and has the potential to affect next season’s crops as well.

“To the farmers, I want you to know we’re in it for the long haul. So, this is more than about just relief,” Healey said last month. “It’s about recovery. It’s about resilience. It’s about sustainability.”


Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.

Travis Andersen can be reached at