Every Alabama county except for one — Lamar — is now eligible for federal drought assistance. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has designated 48 Alabama counties as primary disaster areas, and 18 other counties qualified because they are contiguous.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns designated 48 Alabama counties as primary natural disaster areas, and 18 other counties qualified for help because they are contiguous.

Gov. Bob Riley and state Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks issued a joint statement saying high temperatures and a lack of rain are taking a toll on Alabama farmers, and the federal declaration will provide needed help.

This designation makes farmers in both primary and contiguous counties eligible for low-interest emergency loans from the Farm Service Agency (FSA), provided eligibility requirements are met. FSA will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability. FSA has a variety of programs, in addition to the emergency loan program, to help eligible farmers recover from adversity.

Interested farmers may contact their local USDA Service Centers for further information on eligibility requirements and application procedures for these and other programs. Additional information is also available online at: http://disaster.fsa.usda.gov.

The counties designated as primary disaster areas are: Baldwin, Barbour, Bibb, Bullock, Butler, Chambers, Cherokee, Choctaw, Clarke, Clay, Coffee, Colbert, Conecuh, Coosa, Covington, Crenshaw, Cullman, Dale, Elmore, Escambia, Etowah, Franklin, Geneva, Greene, Hale, Henry, Houston, Jackson, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Lee, Macon, Madison, Marengo, Mobile, Monroe, Montgomery, Morgan, Perry, Pike, Randolph, Russell, St. Clair, Sumter, Tallapoosa, Tuscaloosa, Washington and Wilcox.

The contiguous counties that are covered are: Autauga, Blount, Calhoun, Chilton, Cleburne, Dallas, DeKalb, Fayette, Jefferson, Limestone, Lowndes, Marion, Marshall, Pickens, Shelby, Talladega, Walker and Winston.

In addition, six Alabama counties have been approved for emergency grazing of federal Conservation Reserve Program land because of the drought. The federal program normally pays farmers to idle land in order to preserve wildlife habitat or what is considered fragile cropland.

The six counties are Bullock, Covington, Elmore, Geneva, Montgomery and Pike.

The announcement means that farmers in those six counties who are under contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to maintain the land can use it for grazing and allow others to use if for grazing if they choose.