Farmers in 40 counties eligible for drought-related aid

By Tess Vrbin | Arkansas Advocate

Farmers in more than half of Arkansas’ 75 counties can apply for federal funds to help them cope with the effects of ongoing drought conditions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday.

The USDA declared a “primary natural disaster area” in 20 counties: Benton, Boone, Carroll, Clay, Cleburne, Conway, Faulkner, Independence, Izard, Johnson, Lawrence, Madison, Marion, Newton, Polk, Pope, Searcy, Stone, Van Buren and Washington.

The 20 additional counties bordering the disaster area — Baxter, Craighead, Crawford, Franklin, Fulton, Greene, Howard, Jackson, Logan, Lonoke, Montgomery, Perry, Pike, Pulaski, Randolph, Scott, Sevier, Sharp, White and Yell — are also eligible for federal aid.

Farmers can apply for relief at their local Farm Service Agency offices.

Months of abnormally hot and dry weather throughout the state have added to ongoing financial problems for both cattle and crop farmers in a state with agriculture as its top industry. All 75 counties experienced abnormally dry or drought conditions in July.

As of Thursday, much of west, northwest and central Arkansas is still experiencing “severe” drought, while conditions have returned to normal in most of south and northeast Arkansas, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor at the University of Nebraska.

The updated and expanded USDA disaster area designation aligns with the westward shift in drought conditions.

Baxter, Fulton, Randolph and Sharp counties were all declared disaster areas July 29 after Gov. Asa Hutchinson requested disaster designation for the entire state. Farmers in all four counties are still eligible for the same financial assistance even though the four counties are now contiguous to the primary disaster area.

Agriculture experts said earlier this month that the drought would likely have a severe impact on the cattle industry, since farmers have struggled to grow hay. The disaster area covers a great deal of cattle farming areas in northern and western Arkansas.

Jake Cartwright, the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation’s director of commodity activities and economics, co-authored a report that estimated an average loss of nearly $97 million in the state’s hay and forage production this year due to the drought.

Cartwright said in an emailed statement Friday that the Farm Bureau is grateful to the USDA for allowing more farmers to apply for financial assistance.

“The hot weather and drought conditions faced by farmers this year were some of the worst in over a decade and will have a lasting impact on the state’s cattle industry,” Cartwright said.

Hutchinson said in a statement through a spokeswoman that he also appreciates the expansion of eligibility but hopes for more.

“Farmers and ranchers throughout Arkansas should have access to federal disaster assistance if needed,” he said.

Arkansas Advocate is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arkansas Advocate maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sonny Albarado for questions: info@arkansasadvocate.com. Follow Arkansas Advocate on Facebook and Twitter.

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