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Additional $11.8 million in drought aid announced


US Drought Monitor
(David Simeral, Western Regional Climate Center. National Drought Migration Center - University of Nebraska-Lincoln)


Farmers and ranchers suffering from the drought in 22 states can apply for an additional $11.8 million in financial and technical assistance from the Agriculture Department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA officials said today.

The money, which will be funneled through the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, can be used to plant cover crops such as wheat or rye, which are helpful in retaining nutrients and moisture in the soil and providing feed to animals over winter, for constructing water tanks to bring water to cattle and for establishing grazing rotation practices, Agriculture Undersecretary for Natural Resources Harris Sherman told The Hagstrom Report today.

“Farmers and ranchers can apply at the local NRCS office, go online, or call our offices in almost every county in the country,” Sherman said. “We welcome their inquiries.”

With 1,670 counties now designated disaster areas, Sherman noted that this year continues to be “one of the worst droughts since the 1950s,” with 14 states experiencing “exceptional drought,” USDA’s term for the most serious lack of rainfall, and eight states experiencing “extreme” drought.

About 65 percent of U.S. farms fall into these two categories of exceptional or extreme drought, while 70 percent of the crop and livestock production falls into the area of moderate to severe drought.

The drought has affected 65 percent of cattle and 75 percent of corn and soybean production, and farmers are expected to harvest 10.7 billion bushels of corn, the smallest crop in 6 years, down 13 percent from 2011.

An NRCS official said that funding for the drought program is money that had not yet been spent by NRCS offices and, with the fiscal year drawing to close, it has been “repurposed” for drought aid.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack noted in a news release that NRCS had already provided $16 million in financial and technical assistance to help livestock producers, and that USDA had taken other actions. But Vilsack added, “Congress also needs to act, and the urgency to pass a comprehensive, multi-year food, farm and jobs bill is greater than ever.”

Exceptional drought continues to dominate sections of Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming, while Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina and Utah are under extreme drought, USDA said in a news release.