USDA responds to spreading drought with more help for farmers

Jul 25, 2012

Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack declared four additional Michigan counties natural disaster areas due to continuing dry conditions.

Branch, Cass, Hillsdale, and St. Joseph counties have all joined the list.

This brings the number of counties experiencing drought up to 38 in Michigan, and 1,234 nationally, as counted during the 2012 crop year.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, over 82 percent of Michigan's land is abnormally to extremely dry.  At this time last year, no portion of the state was categorized as dry.

The nation's corn crop is suffering in the dry heat. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, from June 3 to July 22, the portion of the U.S. corn rated good to excellent fell from 72 to 26 percent. In the USDA graphic above, you can see that the state's staple crop is unusually poor in quality this year.

To compensate for damage and losses caused by the weather, the federal government is offering farmers in these areas low-interest emergency loans.

In a USDA press release, Vilsack said,

President Obama requested that USDA take the steps within our existing programs to support struggling farmers and ranchers and we announced these new measures earlier this week... The hardworking Americans who produce our food and fiber, feed for our livestock, and contribute to a home-grown energy policy—they need action now. That is why USDA is taking every possible step to help farmers through this difficult time.

In addition to the emergency loans, those new measures include:

  • The allowance of additional acres for emergency haying or grazing.
  • Letting farmers modify current Environmental Quality Incentives Program contracts to allow for grazing, livestock watering, and other conservation activities to cope with drought conditions
  • Authorization of haying and grazing in Wetlands Reserve Program easement areas in drought-affected areas as long as the activities are consistent with wildlife habitat and wetlands conservation.
  • Asking insurance companies to provide an extended window for farmers to pay insurance premiums.

The USDA says this year's drought is the most serious to impact U.S. agriculture in 23 years.

-Elaine Ezekiel, Michigan Radio Newsroom