There's no letup in the drought gripping much of the nation.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Thursday signed disaster designations for an additional 218 counties in 12 states as primary natural disaster areas due to damage and losses caused by drought and excessive heat.Â
Counties designated this past week 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 by USDA in 2012, mainly due to drought.Â
"The assistance announced today will help U.S. livestock producers dealing with climbing feed prices, critical shortages of hay and deteriorating pasturelands," said Vilsack. "Responding to my request, crop insurance companies indicated that producers can forgo interest penalties to help our nation's farm families struggling with cash flow challenges."Â
Emergency haying and grazingÂ
In response to the expanding drought, Vilsack also announced that livestock producers and other participants in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) will now be able to hay and graze acres that have been ineligible in the past. Many of these additional acres have wetland-related characteristics and are likely to contain better quality hay and forage than on other CRP acres.Â
There are approximately 3.8 million acres that will now be eligible for emergency haying and grazing, subject to certain conditions. Haying and grazing may only occur under strict compliance rules to help minimize impacts on these sensitive specialty practices. In addition, USDA will conduct follow-up monitoring and evaluation of these opened CRP areas to study the effects of the drought and USDA's emergency haying and grazing actions.Â
Producers should contact their local Farm Service Agency offices for additional information.Â
Federal crop insuranceÂ
In addition, Vilsack has announced that crop insurance companies have agreed to provide a short grace period for farmers on insurance premiums in 2012. To help producers who may have cash flow problems due to natural disasters, Vilsack sent a letter to crop insurance companies asking them to voluntarily defer the accrual of any interest on unpaid spring crop premiums by producers until November 1, 2012.Â
In turn, to assist the crop insurance companies, USDA will not require crop insurance companies to pay uncollected producer premiums until one month later.Â
During the 2012 crop year, USDA has designated 1,584 unduplicated counties across 32 states as disaster areas -- 1,452 due to drought -- making all qualified farm operators in the areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans.Â
The U.S. Drought Monitor indicates that 66 percent of the nation's hay acreage is in an area experiencing drought, while approximately 73 percent of the nation's cattle acreage is in an area experiencing drought.Â
During the week ending July 29, USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) reported that U.S. soybeans rated 37 percent very poor to poor, matching the lowest conditions observed during the drought of 1988.Â
NASS also reported that 48 percent of the U.S. corn crop was rated very poor to poor, while 57 percent of the nation's pastures and rangeland are rated very poor or poor condition.Â
A list of primary counties and corresponding states designated as disaster thus far can be found here.