The United States government has designated nearly 600 counties across 14 states as primary disaster areas due to severe drought and heat, in the first disaster designations of the new year.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Wednesday that farm operators across 597 counties now qualify for low-interest emergency loans.
“As drought persists, USDA will continue to partner with producers to see them through longer-term recovery, while taking the swift actions needed to help farmers and ranchers prepare their land and operations for the upcoming planting season,” agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack noted in the announcement.
The counties have shown a drought intensity value of at least D2 (Drought Severe) for eight consecutive weeks based on U.S. Drought Monitor measurements, providing for an automatic designation.
The Drought Monitor measures drought intensity on a scale from D1 to D4, or moderate, severe, extreme and exceptional respectively.
The counties designated as disaster areas include: Alabama, 14; Arkansas, 47; Arizona, 4; Colorado, 30; Georgia, 92; Hawaii, 2; Kansas, 88; Oklahoma, 76; Missouri, 31; New Mexico, 19; Nevada, 9; South Carolina, 11; Texas, 157; and Utah, 17.
In 2012, USDA designated 2,245 counties in 39 states as disaster areas due to drought, or 71% of the country.