Effective July 12, more than 1,000 primary counties in 26 states will be designated as natural disaster areas, making all qualified farm operators in the designated areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans from USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA), according to a July 10 USDA press release.
All farmers in Gwinnett County, which flunctuates between “severe,” “extreme” and “exceptional” drought status, are eligible. An area must be in severe or worse drought status for eight or more weeks during the growing season to qualify.
The United States Department of Agriculture historically has responded to disasters across the country in a number of ways: by providing direct support, disaster assistance, technical assistance, and access to credit. Low-interest loans, now at 2.25 percent, are available to help producers recover from losses due to the 2012 drought.
The drought has been getting progressively worse over the past six weeks, as this animation shows. And, approximately 1,016 primary counties across the nation are designated drought areas.
Drought in Georgia is not too rare of an occurrence; the state had dry stretches in the winter of 2002-2003, and again throughout most of 2008. What sets this particular drought apart is the extent of it throughout the entire country.
More than half of the United States is experiencing some form of drought.
"Agriculture remains a bright spot in our nation's economy and it is increasingly important that USDA has the tools to act quickly and deliver assistance to farmers and ranchers when they need it most," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press release. "By amending the Secretarial disaster designation, we're creating a more efficient and effective process.
“And by delivering lower interest rates on emergency loans and providing greater flexibility for haying and grazing on CRP lands, we're keeping more farmers in business and supporting our rural American communities through difficult times.
"With these improvements, we're also telling American producers that USDA stands with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood."
For more information, visit the USDA's website.
(Editor's note: This is part of a series on drought and extreme heat in Gwinnett County. Check back with Patch for updates and other information.)