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On drought-disaster list, 47 counties in state are loan-eligible

By John Magsam

This article was published January 10, 2013 at 2:51 a.m.

— Farming operations in 47 Arkansas counties are eligible for low-interest emergency loans after the U.S. Department of Agriculture flagged the counties as primary natural-disaster areas for 2013 because ofdrought and heat damage.

Ranchers and farmers in 14 more Arkansas counties contiguous to those with the disaster designation also qualify for the assistance. And, in states surrounding Arkansas, 76 counties were designated as primary disaster areas inOklahoma, 31 in Missouri and 157 in Texas.

A total of 597 counties in 14 states received the designation from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack - the department’s first disaster designations of 2013.

To qualify for the automaticdesignation, counties must be classified in the second-lowest drought designation, severe drought, for eight consecutive weeks.

According to a University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture study releasedin late 2012, Arkansas’ cattle industry lost $128 million because of drought conditions. Farmers sold off cattle early in the face of grass, hay and water shortages. They also paid increased prices for hay and feed for their remaining animals and received reduced prices for calves.

The study estimated that the loss was $141 per head of cattle, with an average loss per producer of $5,000.

Adam McClung, executive vice president of the Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association said the state still needs more rain and many cattle ranchers are trying to hang on until spring when pastures begin to green up and grass becomes available for cattle.

McClung said the availability of low-interest loans thoughthe disaster-area designation will provide vital operating capital for cattle ranchers.

“They’re out there looking for hay,” McClung said.

From April to July, Arkansas had an average rainfall total of 9.03 inches, the driest period on record. In August, 54 percent of Arkansas was considered in exceptional drought, the highest ranking, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb.

According to U.S. Drought Monitor, a part of the drought mitigation center, as of Jan. 1, 54.3 percent of the state was still in moderate, severe or extreme drought. The monitor reported that 24.4 percent of the state was not classified as under any type of drought condition.

The USDA classified 2,245 counties in 39 states, or 71 percent of the U.S., as disaster areas because of drought in 2012, according to the release.

Business, Pages 23 on 01/10/2013

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