USDA speeds up disaster relief for swathe of Midwest states hit by drought
More than 1,000 counties across 26 states in the Midwest have been declared drought disaster zones by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said 1,016 counties would be eligible for low-interest loans to help them weather the drought, wildfires and other disasters.
He announced a final rule that simplifies and speeds up the process time by 40% for counties most affected by disaster and a reduced emergency loan interest rate from 3.75% to 2.25%.
A payment reduction from 25% to 10% on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands qualified for emergency haying and grazing in 2012,was also declared.
"Agriculture remains a bright spot in our nation's economy and it is increasingly important that USDA has the tools to act quickly and deliver assistance to farmers and ranchers when they need it most."
A natural disaster designation makes all qualified farm operators in the designated areas eligible for low interest emergency loans.
The final rule for disaster designations removes the requirement that a request for a disaster designation be initiated by a state governor or Indian tribal council.
The same criteria for triggering a disaster designation will apply where a county must show 30% production loss of at least one crop countywide, or a decision made by surveying producers that other lenders are not able to provide emergency funding.
About 40% of U.S. crop was reported as being in good to excellent condition by the USDA on July 9, the lowest for this time of year since a drought in 1988.
More temperatures in the 90s Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) are expected next week from the Midwest to the Northeast, according to Commodity Weather Group LLC.
The low-interst loans and penalty reductions provided for by the disaster declarations will cost the government US$4 million, Bloomberg reported.
Vilsack called on Congress to pass a five-year reauthorization of all agricultural programs before Sept. 30, when current authorization expires, to enhance the USDA's ability to help farmers and ranchers at crucial times.
The declaration covers counties in California, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, Indiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Delaware and Hawaii.