Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says USDA is ready to deploy personnel and resources to assist the efforts by federal, state and local authorities in response to Hurricane Irene.

Yesterday, the Secretary joined Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for a tour of hurricane-impacted areas in North Carolina and Virginia.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to all who have suffered losses caused by this massive storm," said Vilsack.

"USDA is ready to provide food, emergency assistance and other resources to the affected areas. We continue to closely coordinate with many partners to meet the immediate and plan for the long-term needs of those affected by Hurricane Irene."

USDA encourages farmers, ranchers, producers, landowners and rural communities to contact their local USDA Farm Service Agency Service Center to report damages to crops or livestock loss; their local Rural Development office for housing, business or community assistance information and/or their local Natural Resources Conservation Service office for help with debris removal.

Specifically, USDA is offering the following assistance in response to the hurricane:

Farmer and rancher assistance: USDA encourages farmers who have crop and or physical damage, to contact their local Farm Service Agency Service Center as soon as possible.

The affected State and County Emergency Boards, chaired by the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), are assisting with the response efforts and quickly assessing agricultural needs and determining the storms impact on crops.

Emergency loans are available to agricultural producers through the Farm Service Agency Emergency (EM) Loan Program which provides low-interest EM loans for crop and livestock production and physical losses.

The loans are available in counties declared under a Presidential (FEMA) declaration or Secretarial disaster designation.

Assistance also might be available through the Farm Service Agency Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) funds, subject to the availability of funds. ECP signup will be held where authorized by FSA State Committees.

ECP applications will be processed subject to available funding. And farmers and ranchers may qualify for assistance for any crop or livestock losses if they meet certain eligibility requirements.