WASHINGTON – Worsening drought conditions prompted the US Department of Agriculture to designate 39 additional counties as primary natural disaster areas, the agency announced July 18.
USDA so far has designated 1,297 counties across 29 states as disaster areas. The additional counties designated are in Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming. The US Drought Monitor currently reports that 61 percent of the continental US is in a moderate to exceptional drought. All qualified farm operators in designated areas are eligible for low-interest emergency loans, according to USDA.
"Our hearts go out to all of those affected by this drought," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "President Obama and I are committed to ensuring that agriculture remains a bright spot in our nation's economy by sustaining the successes of America's farmers, ranchers, and rural communities through these difficult times.
"That's why USDA officials are fanning out to affected areas, to let our farmers and ranchers know that we stand with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood. And that is also why it is important that Congress pass a food, farm and jobs bill that ensures a robust safety net for producers in times of need."
Drought conditions have damaged or slowed the maturation of crops such as corn and soybeans, as well as pasture- and range-land, according to USDA. The agency said USDA subcabinet leaders are traveling to affected areas to augment ongoing assistance from state-level USDA staff and provide guidance on existing disaster resources. Also, the interest rate for emergency loans was reduced to 2.25 percent from 3.75 percent with the goal of creating greater flexibility for ranchers within the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for emergency haying and grazing purposes.