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US - As part of continuing steps by the Obama Administration to get assistance to producers impacted by the drought, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has designated 172 additional counties in 15 states as primary natural disaster areas due to drought and heat, making all qualified farm operators in the areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans. To date, USDA has designated 1,792 counties as disaster areas—1,670 due to drought.
calendar icon 20 August 2012
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Last week, President Obama and Secretary Vilsack traveled to Iowa to announce USDA's intent to purchase up to $170 million of pork, lamb, chicken, and catfish for federal food nutrition assistance programs, including food banks, which will help relieve pressure on American livestock producers and bring the nation's meat supply in line with demand.

"USDA is committed to using its resources wherever possible to help the farmers, ranchers, small businesses, and communities being impacted by the drought," said Mr Vilsack. "In the past month, we have streamlined the disaster designation process, reduced interest rates on emergency loans, and provided flexibility within our conservation programs to support struggling producers. In the weeks ahead, the President and I will continue to take swift action to help America's farmers and ranchers through this difficult time."

Mr Vilsack also announced the availability of up to $5 million in grants to evaluate and demonstrate agricultural practices that help farmers and ranchers adapt to drought. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is taking applications for Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) to help producers build additional resiliency into their production systems. NRCS is offering the grants to partnering entities to evaluate innovative, field-based conservation technologies and approaches. These technologies and/or approaches should lead to improvements such as enhancing the water-holding capacity in soils and installing drought-tolerant grazing systems, which will help farms and ranches become more resilient to drought. Visit www.nrcs.usda.gov for more information.

Additionally, in response to a request from five National Organic Program (NOP) certifying agents, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) today announced that USDA will grant a temporary variance from NOP's pasture practice standards for organic ruminant livestock producers (Sections 205.237(c) and 205.240 of the USDA organic regulations) in 16 states in 2012.

The following restrictions apply:

  • this temporary variance applies to non-irrigated pasture only;
  • producers must supply at least 15 percent of their dry matter intake (on average) from certified organic pasture;
  • this temporary variance applies to the 2012 calendar year only;
  • and this temporary variance covers only counties that have been declared as primary natural disaster areas by the Secretary of Agriculture in 2012.

Granting a temporary variance for 2012 from the pasture practice standards is necessary in order to allow organic ruminant livestock producers to continue to be compliant with the program regulations after the severe drought ends and pasture forage becomes available. Temporary variance requests that are outside the scope of this variance will be considered on a case by case basis.

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