Global Warming: USDA Declares 597 U.S. Counties Drought Disaster Areas
U. S. Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack indicated that the United States Department of Agriculture has designated 597 counties in the United States as primary natural disaster areas due to extended drought and heat. This designation makes all qualified farm operators in these areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans.
This is just the 1st round of disaster designations made by the US Department of Agriculture in 2013. “As drought persists, the USDA will
continue to partner with producers to see them through longer-term recovery, while taking this with actions needed to help farmers and ranchers prepare their land and operations for the upcoming planting season,” said Sec. Vilsack. “I will also continue to work with Congress to encourage passage of a Food, Farm and Jobs bill that gives rural America the long-term certainty they need, including a strong indefensible safety net.”
The 597 designated drought disaster areas encompass all or part of 14 states in the United States, including Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas and Utah, with Hawaii being the only state outside of the continental United States to be designated as such.
The USDA’s mission is not only to support advances in the field of agriculture, but has historically responded to disasters across the country by providing disaster assistance, technical assistance, direct support and access to low-interest loans and lines of credit. The USDA’s low-interest emergency loan program has helped farm producers recover from losses due to drought, flooding and other natural disasters for decades.
In calendar year 2012, 2245 counties in 39 states had been designated as disaster areas due to drought, which is 71% of the U.S.. During the height of last year’s drought, Sec. Vilsack implemented a series of aggressive USDA actions most notably expanding the use of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) opening 2.8 million acres of land for grazing and producing hay, lowered the interest rate on emergency loans, and worked with crop insurance companies to provide more flexibility for farmers.
Many of those same actions continue to bring relief to producers ahead of the 2013 planting season, including:
- Simplified the Secretarial disaster designation process and reduced the time it takes to designate counties affected by disasters by 40 percent.
- Transferred $14 million in unobligated program funds into the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) to help farmers and ranchers rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters and for carrying out emergency water conservation measures.
- Updated the emergency loans application process to allow these loans to be made earlier in the season.
- Filed special provisions with the federal crop insurance program to allow haying or grazing of cover crops without impacting the insurability of planted 2013 spring crops.
- Authorized up to $5 million in grants to evaluate and demonstrate agricultural practices that help farmers and ranchers adapt to drought.
- Authorized $16 million in existing funds from its Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to target states experiencing exceptional and extreme drought.
- Installed conservation systems that impacted more than 1 million producers, and reduced water withdrawn from the Ogallala Aquifer by at least 860,000 acre feet, equivalent to the domestic water use of approximately 9.6 million individuals for a year.
- Worked with crop insurance companies to provide flexibility on premium payments to farmers, and one-third of all policyholders took advantage of the payment period.
- Partnered with local governments, colleges, state and federal partners to conduct a series of regional drought workshops with hundreds of producers in Nebraska, Colorado, Arkansas, and Ohio.
The USDA Drought Monitor measures drought intensity in 4 categories, D1, Moderate Drought, D2, Severe Drought, D3, Extreme Drought and D4, Exceptional Drought.
Article by Jim Donahue
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