Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today signed disaster designations for an additional 218 counties in 12 states, including Jasper County in Iowa, as primary natural disaster areas due to damages and losses caused by the draught and excessive heat.
The disaster designations now apply to more than half (50.3 percent) of all counties in the United States, mainly due to the drought.
Secretary Vilsack also announced two new pieces of disaster assistance for farmers and ranchers impacted by the worsening drought.
First, he is expanding emergency haying and grazing on approximately 3.8 million acres of conservation land to bring relief to livestock producers dealing with shortages of hay and pastureland. Second, he announced that crop insurance companies have agreed to provide a short grace period for farmers where they will have an extra 30 days to make payments without incurring penalties on unpaid premiums.
"President Obama and I will continue to take swift action to get help to America's farmers and ranchers through this difficult time," Vilsack said.
Participants in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) will now be able to hay and graze acres that have not been eligible in the past, many additional acres that have wetland-related characteristics. Producers should contact their local Farm Service Agency offices for additional information.
Secretary Vilsack sent a request to crop insurance companies asking them to voluntarily defer the accrual of any interest on unpaid spring crop premiums by producers having cash flow problems due to the drought until Nov. 1, 2012. In turn, to assist the companies, the USDA will not require crop insurers to pay uncollected producer premiums until one month later.
During the 2012 crop year, USDA has designated 1,584 counties across 32 states as disaster areas - 1,452 due to the drought - making all qualified farm operators in the areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans. Sixty-six percent of the U.S. hay acreage is in an area experiencing drought, while approximately 73 percent of the nation's cattle acreage is in drought areas.
Gov. Terry Branstad thanked the Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa governor for making the primary natural disaster areas for 42 Iowa counties following his request last month seeking the declarations.
"In response to my letter, the Lt. Governor and I would like to thank Secretary Vilsack for the USDA's recent drought declaration of several Iowa counties," the governor said in a statement today. "This drought has had a significant impact on Iowa agriculture and the farmers who work hard every day to feed a growing world population. This disaster designation will provide affected Iowans with additional resources during these difficult times."