As of July 18, 1,207 counties in 29 states had been declared disaster areas eligible for disaster assistance by farmers and ranchers.
The total included 39 counties added to the list this week by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) because of drought and excessive heat. Farm operations in the disaster counties are eligible for low-interest emergency loans.
The degree of disaster has many involved in agriculture worried that perhaps the brightest spot in the U.S. economy—agriculture—might fade.
The USDA Drought Monitor reports that 61 percent of the continental United States is in a moderate to exceptional drought and thoughts are that more area will fall in at least moderate drought after the current heat wave gripping a large portion of the nation this week. The additional counties designated disaster areas this week are in the states of Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming.
The claim is that 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,” according to a USDA news release.
Secretary Tom Vilsack appeared somewhat politically motivated by ordering “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.”
The interest rate for emergency loans was reduced from 3.75 percent to 2.25 percent last week and USDA created greater flexibility for ranchers within the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for emergency haying and grazing purposes. There also is a “new, streamlined process that simplifies secretarial disaster designations,” which the department claims will result in a 40 percent reduction in processing time for most counties affected by disasters.
Requests also are coming in from state governors for drought disaster designation for entire states.