WASHINGTON, July 25, 2012 - Secretary Tom Vilsack today designated 76 additional counties in six 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 1,369 counties across 31 states as disaster areas—1,234 due to drought—making all qualified farm operators in the areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans.

The additional counties designated are in the states of Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin. The U.S. Drought Monitor currently reports that two-thirds of the continental United States is in a moderate to exceptional drought.

"As USDA officials visit drought-stricken areas to stand with our producers and rural communities, the urgency for Congress to pass a food, farm and jobs bill is greater than ever,” said Vilsack. “The hardworking Americans who produce our food and fiber, feed for our livestock, and contribute to a home-grown energy policy—they need action now. That is why USDA is taking every possible step to help farmers through this difficult time."

During the week ending July 22, the portion of the U.S. corn crop rated in very poor to poor condition climbed to 45 percent, according to USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service. Soybeans rated very poor to poor rose to 35 percent.

Such ratings for both commodities have increased for seven consecutive weeks. During the same period, from June 3 to July 22, the portion of the U.S. corn rated good to excellent fell from 72 to 26 percent. Soybeans rated good to excellent tumbled from 65 to 31 percent.

The current corn and soybean ratings represent the lowest conditions at any time of year since 1988. At the same time, more than half—or 55 percent—of the nation's pastures and rangeland are rated in very poor or poor condition.

Last week, USDA announced that it will allow additional acres under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to be used for emergency haying or grazing. The action will allow lands that are not yet classified as "under severe drought" but that are "abnormally dry" to be used for haying and grazing.

In addition, USDA is allowing producers to modify current Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) contracts to allow for grazing, livestock watering, and other conservation activities to address drought conditions, and has authorized haying and grazing of Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) easement areas in drought-affected areas where haying and grazing is consistent with conservation of wildlife habitat and wetlands.

Vilsack also announced plans to encourage crop insurance companies to provide a short grace period for farmers on unpaid insurance premiums, as some farming families can be expected to struggle to make ends meet at the close of the crop year.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has also made 63 agency declarations in 33 states covering 1,675 counties, providing a pathway for those affected to apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). SBA's EIDLs are available to small, non-farm businesses that are economically affected by the drought in their community.

Primary counties and corresponding states designated as disaster areas today:

Illinois: Crawford, Pike

Indiana: Blackford, Boone, Clinton, Delaware, Fountain, Henry, Madison, Montgomery, Rush, Tippecanoe, Tipton, Vermillion, Vigo, White

Kansas: Chase, Dickinson, Douglas, Ellis, Ellsworth, Franklin, Geary, Jefferson, Johnson, Leavenworth, Lincoln, Marion, Miami, Mitchell, Morris, Osage, Osborne, Ottawa, Rush, Russell, Saline, Shawnee, Smith, Wabaunsee, Wyandotte

Michigan: Branch, Cass, Hillsdale, St. Joseph

Nebraska: Boone, Custer, Greeley, Howard, Merrick, Nance, Sherman, Valley

Wisconsin: Adams, Columbia, Crawford, Dane, Dodge, Fond du Lac, Grant, Green, Green Lake, Iowa, Jefferson, Kenosha, Lafayette, Marquette, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Richland, Rock, Sauk, Walworth, Washington, Waukesha


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