The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated 150 counties in Georgia as primary natural disaster areas due to an ongoing drought and excessive heat that has damaged thousands of acres of crops.

"Many producers have lost their crops and ultimately their livelihood due to the devastation caused by the drought," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The drought — which began April 15, 2011, and continues — caused 30 percent or more loss of forage crops, pasture, grain crops, cotton, peanuts and tobacco in 150 counties across the state. 

Farmers and ranchers in the nine counties not designated as primary disaster areas also qualify for natural disaster assistance because their counties are contiguous. Those nine counties are Baldwin, Chattahoochee, Clayton, Greene, Jasper, Jones, Muscogee, Newton and Talbot.

Because all of Georgia's counties were designated primary or contiguous natural disaster areas, all qualified farm operators in the designated areas are eligible for low interest emergency (EM) loans from USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA), provided eligibility requirements are met.

Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for loans to help cover part of their actual losses.

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 EM loan program, to help eligible farmers recover from adversity.

USDA also has made other programs available to assist farmers and ranchers, including the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE), which was approved as part of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008; the Emergency Conservation Program; Federal Crop Insurance; and the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.

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

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