Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today designated 39 additional counties in eight states as primary natural disaster areas due to damage and losses caused by drought and excessive heat.
During the 2012 crop year, the USDA has designated 1,297 counties across 29 states as disaster areas, making all qualified farm operators in the areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans. The additional counties designated today are in the states of Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming. The U.S. Drought Monitor currently reports that 61% of the continental United States is in a moderate to exceptional drought.
Earlier in the week, USDA also designated the entire state of Missouri a disaster area due to drought in response to a request from the state's governor.
"Our hearts go out to all of those affected by this drought," said 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."
Increasingly hot and dry conditions from California to Delaware have damaged or slowed the maturation of crops such as corn and soybeans, as well as pasture- and range-land. Vilsack has instructed USDA subcabinet leaders to travel to affected areas to augment ongoing assistance from state-level USDA staff and provide guidance on the department's existing disaster resources.
To deliver assistance to those who need it most, the Secretary last week effectively reduced the interest rate for emergency loans from 3.75% to 2.25%, while creating greater flexibility for ranchers within the Conservation Reserve Program for emergency haying and grazing purposes. In addition, the disaster designations announced today fall under a new, streamlined process that simplifies Secretarial disaster designations and will result in a 40% reduction in processing time for most counties affected by disasters.