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Drought provokes more USDA disaster area designations

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today expanded haying and grazing on conservation lands, designated more counties as primary natural disaster areas and briefed Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., on the drought while other USDA officials visited drought areas.

Vilsack designated an additional 218 counties in 12 states as primary natural disaster areas due to damage and losses caused by drought and excessive heat. The newly designated counties are in Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyoming.

More than half (50.3 percent) of all counties in the United States have been designated disaster areas in 2012, mainly due to drought, USDA said.

Many of these additional acres have wetland-related characteristics and are likely to contain better quality hay and forage than on other CRP acres, USDA said. There are approximately 3.8 million acres that will now be eligible for emergency haying and grazing, subject to certain conditions.

Vilsack was seen on Capitol Hill meeting with Durbin, but an aide said only that he was briefing the senator on the drought assistance.

USDA also announced that Agriculture Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Michael Scuse will travel to Jefferson and Waterloo, Wis., on Thursday to meet with producers affected by the drought.

FSA Acting Deputy Administrator for Field Operations John Berge is also meeting with farmers and ranchers affected by the drought in several locations in Colorado this week.