Clinton County was designated a primary disaster area by U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday.

Clinton County was one of 42 counties in Iowa and 218 nationwide to receive  the designation on Wednesday due to damage and losses caused by excessive heat.

More than half of the counties in the U.S. have now been designated disaster areas by the USDA, mainly because of the worsening drought, according to the USDA.

State Climatologist Harry Hillaker said statewide this year’s drought could be worse than the one in 1988, making it the worst drought since 1936.

“July is really the most critical month for agriculture and the fact that this July was hotter and rainfall averaged as much as it was in ‘88 makes it worse,” Hillaker said. “The last one that had a worse combination of heat and lack of precipitation was 1936.”

Counties are designated primary disaster areas after suffering severe drought for eight or more consecutive weeks or extreme drought or higher at any time during the growing season according to the U.S. drought monitor.

The USDA has designated 1,452 counties disaster areas due to drought during the 2012 crop year. 

U.S. soybeans rated 37 percent very poor to poor, matching the lowest conditions observed during the drought of 1988. Forty-eight percent of the U.S. corn crop was rated very poor to poor, the agency reported.

The disaster designation makes farm operators in Clinton County eligible to be considered for certain assistance from the Farm Service Agency including FSA emergency loans.

The maximum loan amount is $500,000 and can be used to restore or replace essential property, pay all or part of the production costs associated with the disaster year, pay essential family living expenses, reorganize the farming operation and refinance certain debts, excluding real estate.

The designation comes just two days after the Clinton County Board of Supervisors, along with the Eastern Centeral Intergovernmental Association, agreed to send a letter to USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

 In addition to the disaster designation and in response to the worsening drought conditions, Vilsack announced on Wednesday he is expanding the emergency haying and grazing on 3.8 million acres of conservation land in order to being relief to livestock producers who are experiencing shortages of hay and pastureland.  

Vilsack also announced crop insurance companies have agreed to grant farmers an extra 30 days to make payments without incurring interest.

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