Putnam County joined 38 other counties in eight states Wednesday in being designated by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack as primary natural disaster areas due to damage and losses caused by drought and excessive heat.
During the 2012 crop year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has now designated 1,297 counties across 29 states as disaster areas, making all qualified farm operators in those areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans.
Besides Indiana, the additional counties designated Wednesday are in the states of Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming.
The U.S. Drought Monitor currently reports that 61 percent of the continental United States is in a moderate to exceptional drought.
"Our hearts go out to all of those affected by this drought," Secretary Vilsack said. "President Obama and I are committed to ensuring that agriculture remains a bright spot in our nation's economy by sustaining the successes of America's farmers, ranchers, and rural communities through these difficult times.
"That's why USDA officials are fanning out to affected areas, to let our farmers and ranchers know that we stand with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood. And that is also why it is important that Congress pass a food, farm and jobs bill that ensures a robust safety net for producers in times of need."
In addition to Putnam County, other Indiana counties designated by the USDA as natural disaster areas Wednesday are Clay, Hendricks, Owen, Parke, Morgan, Bartholomew, Brown, Hamilton, Hancock, Johnson, Marion, Monroe and Shelby.
Earlier in the week, USDA also designated the entire state of Missouri a disaster area due to drought in response to a request from the state's governor.
Increasingly hot and dry conditions from California to Delaware have damaged or slowed the maturation of crops such as corn and soybeans, as well as pasture and rangeland.
Vilsack has instructed USDA subcabinet leaders to travel to affected areas to augment ongoing assistance from state-level USDA staff and provide guidance on the department's existing disaster resources.
To deliver assistance to those who need it most, the secretary last week effectively reduced the interest rate for emergency loans from 3.75 percent to 2.25 percent, while creating greater flexibility for ranchers within the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for emergency haying and grazing purposes.
In addition, the new disaster designations fall under a new, streamlined process that will result in a 40 percent reduction in processing time for most counties affected by disasters.
The secretary of Agriculture is authorized to designate disaster counties to make assistance programs available to farmers and ranchers. USDA's low-interest emergency loans have helped producers recover from losses due to drought, flooding and other natural disasters for decades.
By reducing the interest rates to 2.25 percent, emergency loans immediately come into line with other rates in the marketplace and provide a much-needed resource for producers hoping to recover from production and physical losses associated with natural disasters.