Secretary Tom Vilsack has designated 39 additional counties in eight states as primary natural disaster areas due to damage and losses from severe drought conditions. 

During the 2012 crop year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture designated 1,297 counties across 29 states as disaster areas, making all qualified farm operators in the areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans. Yesterday, additional counties were designated in Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming. 

The U.S. Drought Monitor reports 61 percent of the continental United States is in a moderate to exceptional drought. Vilsack has instructed USDA subcabinet leaders to travel to affected areas to augment ongoing assistance from state-level USDA staff and provide guidance on the department’s existing disaster resources. 

To deliver assistance to those who need it most, Vilsack last week reduced the interest rate for emergency loans from 3.75 percent to 2.25 percent, while creating greater flexibility for ranchers within the Conservation Reserve Program for emergency haying and grazing purposes. 

For additional information and updates about USDA’s efforts, visit www.usda.gov/disaster.