The Wyoming Business Council’s board of directors voted unanimously Thursday to offer emergency disaster loans to the owners of Wyoming Sugar Co., an agricultural cooperative in the Big Horn Basin, according to a news release from the business council.

After a call-in meeting, the state’s economic development agency agreed to provide up to $5,675,650 in loans to provide relief after intense fall rains and a hard winter freeze devastated last year’s harvest in Big Horn, Fremont and Washakie counties.

Josh Keefe, the agency's economic development finance manager, will visit the Worland Community Center on Tuesday to meet those affected by the disaster. Wyoming Sugar is owned by 38 growers representing about 60 families in Fremont, Big Horn, Park and Washakie counties.

The deadline for submitting loan applications is May 15. Business council staff then will analyze the applications for sufficient collateral and cash flow.

If granted, the 10-year loans will include 3.5 percent in annual interest. On average, each loan will be about $158,000, though that amount could range from $13,000 to nearly $500,000.

Business Council CEO Shawn Reese said agriculture contributes a large part of Wyoming’s economy.

“The sugar beet industry in particular is important to the Big Horn Basin,” Reese said in a prepared statement. “The loans will help these growers and families get back on their feet and get ready for the next growing season."

This will be the fourth time the Business Council has provided disaster relief loans, and this loan proposal nearly doubles all previous loans.

The agency has provided 123 alfalfa, bean and beet growers $6,038,396 in economic disaster loans since 2000. Of those, six growers defaulted on a total of $84,201. The interest income since 2000 totals $941,414 and the principal remains untouched.

Wyoming Sugar Co.’s situation did not qualify for emergency financial aid from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency.

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