The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated 66 counties in Alabama as primary natural disaster areas due to excessive rain, flooding and flash flooding that occurred during the period of Jan. 1, 2009, and continuing.

The designation covers every county in the state with the exception of Coosa County. However, Coosa County also will be eligible for natural disaster assistance since it is named as a contiguous county for this disaster.

"President Obama and I understand these conditions caused severe damage to the area and serious harm to farms in Alabama and we want to help," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "This action will provide help to hundreds of farmers who suffered significant production losses to a wide variety of crops, including field crops, pasture, forage, vegetables, fruit and nuts."

Several counties in Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee also qualify for natural disaster assistance because they are contiguous.

All qualified farm operators in the designated areas are now 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 http://disaster.fsa.usda.gov.