State officials have requested U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to declare nine counties in eastern West Virginia as drought disaster areas, potentially opening the door for aid through U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) assistance programs.

The USDA’s West Virginia Farm Service Agency (FSA) says that nine counties have reached the threshold of at least 30 percent losses in at least one major crop.

The counties included in the declaration request include Berkeley, Morgan, Jefferson, Pendleton, Grant, Hampshire, Hardy, Mineral and Preston. Crops affected include apples, peaches, corn, hay, pasture and soybeans. Water supplies for livestock are also a concern for farmers and West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Gus R. Douglass.

“This has been an extremely difficult summer for farmers in the eastern Panhandle,” said Commissioner Douglass. “Besides the lack of rain, increased temperatures, windy conditions and low humidity have reduced soil moisture to extremely low levels, and livestock are also suffering, as streams and ponds dry up.”

Commissioner Douglass added that farmers should be on guard against starting fires while working in the fields.

“If they are harvesting corn with a combine, they should consider having a tractor and disk standing by in case a stray spark starts a fire,” he said. “Fire extinguishers should be checked before entering the fields.”

Over the past month, Martinsburg has had only one inch of rain, roughly a third of what it normally receives. The U.S. drought monitor lists much of the eastern Panhandle in “extreme” drought conditions, joining portions of Louisiana and Hawaii as the driest areas in the country.

Any relief from this disaster request will be in the hands of Secretary Vilsack. In the past, relief programs have consisted primarily of low-interest loans to farmers.

For more information, visit http://www.wvagriculture.org.