The U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared more than half the counties in the country natural disaster areas as drought sears millions of acres of pasture and cropland.
The USDA today added 218 counties in 12 states throughout the Midwest, Great Plains and South, bringing to almost 1,600 in 32 states the number eligible for government assistance for losses caused mostly by drought. The government also expanded the area of federally subsidized conservation land available for emergency grazing to 3.8 million acres, and said crop-insurance companies have agreed to a short grace period for farmer premium payments.
“The assistance announced today will help U.S. livestock producers dealing with climbing feed prices, critical shortages of hay and deteriorating pasturelands,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “The Obama administration intends to continue helping those who farm or ranch and live and work in rural America through this period of hardship.”
USDA disaster declarations make farmers and ranchers eligible for low-interest loans to help them weather the drought, wildfires and other disasters. About 24 percent of the nation’s corn crop was in good or excellent condition as of July 29, the worst assessment for this time of year since 1988, according to the USDA.
Lower supplies are boosting costs for food companies from McDonald’s Corp. and Coca-Cola Co. to Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Smithfield Foods Inc. Food prices may rise as much as 4 percent next year, the USDA said last week.