The USDA has designated an additional 172 counties in 15 states as primary natural disaster areas due to drought and heat, making all qualified farm operators in the areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans. To date, USDA has designated 1,792 counties as disaster areas -- 1,670 due to drought.

The week of August 13, President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack traveled to Iowa to announce USDA's intent to purchase up to $170 million of pork, lamb, chicken, and catfish for federal food nutrition assistance programs, including food banks, which will help relieve pressure on American livestock producers and bring the nation's meat supply in line with demand.

"USDA is committed to using existing authorities wherever possible to help the farmers, ranchers, small businesses, and communities being impacted by the drought," said Vilsack. "In the past month, we have streamlined the disaster designation process, reduced interest rates on emergency loans, and provided flexibility within our conservation programs to support struggling producers. In the weeks ahead, the President and I will continue to take swift action to help America's farmers and ranchers through this difficult time."

Vilsack also announced the availability of up to $5 million in grants to evaluate and demonstrate agricultural practices that help farmers and ranchers adapt to drought. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is taking applications for Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) to help producers build additional resiliency into their production systems. NRCS is offering the grants to partnering entities to evaluate innovative, field-based conservation technologies and approaches. These technologies and/or approaches should lead to improvements such as enhancing the water-holding capacity in soils and installing drought-tolerant grazing systems, which will help farms and ranches become more resilient to drought.

Visit www.nrcs.usda.gov for more information.

Additionally, in response to a request from five National Organic Program (NOP) certifying agents, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced that USDA will grant a temporary variance from NOP's pasture practice standards for organic ruminant livestock producers (Sections 205.237(c) and 205.240 of the USDA organic regulations) in 16 states in 2012. The following restrictions apply: this temporary variance applies to non-irrigated pasture only; producers must supply at least 15 percent of their dry matter intake (on average) from certified organic pasture; this temporary variance applies to the 2012 calendar year only; and this temporary variance covers only counties that have been declared as primary natural disaster areas by the Secretary of Agriculture in 2012. Granting a temporary variance for 2012 from the pasture practice standards is necessary in order to allow organic ruminant livestock producers to continue to be compliant with the program regulations after the severe drought ends and pasture forage becomes available. Temporary variance requests that are outside the scope of this variance will be considered on a case by case basis.

Primary counties and corresponding states designated as disaster areas today for drought and other reasons:

Alabama [drought]

Calhoun

Arkansas [drought]

Chicot

Desha

Drew

Colorado [other]

Weld

Illinois [drought]

Bureau

Cook

De Kalb

Du Page

Grundy

Henry

Kane

Kankakee

Kendall

Knox

Mercer

Putnam

Stark

Will

Indiana [drought]

Adams

Benton

Dearborn

Decatur

Fayette

Franklin

Jennings

Ripley

Starke

Union

Washington

Wayne

Iowa [drought]

Adair

Adams

Audubon

Buena Vista

Calhoun

Carroll

Cass

Cerro

Cherokee

Clay

Crawford

Dallas

Floyd

Franklin

Fremont

Gordo

Greene

Guthrie

Hancock

Harrison

Humboldt

Ida

Louisa

Mills

Monona

Montgomery

O'Brien

Osceola

Page

Pocahontas

Pottawattamie Sac

Shelby

Washington

Webster

Wright

Kentucky [drought]

Adair

Allen

Anderson

Barren

Bath

Boone

Bourbon

Boyd

Bracken

Bullitt

Campbell

Carroll

Carter

Clark

Clinton

Cumberland

Edmonson

Elliott

Estill

Fayette

Fleming

Floyd

Franklin

Gallatin

Garrard

Grant

Green

Greenup

Harrison

Hart

Jackson

Jefferson

Jessamine

Johnson

Kenton

Laurel

Lawrence

Lewis

Lincoln

Madison

Magoffin

Marion

Mason

Menifee

Metcalfe

Montgomery

Nelson

Nicholas

Owen

Pendleton

Pike

Powell

Pulaski

Robertson

Rockcastle

Rowan

Russell

Scott

Shelby

Simpson

Spencer

Taylor

Trimble

Warren

Washington

Wayne

Wolfe

Woodford

Kansas [drought]

Nemaha

Louisiana [drought]

Morehouse

Richland

Union

West Carroll

Minnesota [drought]

Nobles

Mississippi [drought]

Quitman

Sunflower

Tallahatchie

Yalobusha

Nebraska [drought]

Cass

Douglas

Fillmore

Lancaster

Otoe

Saline

Sarpy

Seward

Washington

Ohio [drought]

Butler

Defiance

Fulton

Hamilton

Henry

Paulding

Preble

Putnam

Van Wert

Oklahoma [drought]

Murray

Pontotoc

Tennessee [drought]

Madison

Wyoming [drought and other]

Big Horn

Campbell

Converse

Fremont

Goshen

Johnson

Natrona

Park

Platte

Sheridan

Sublette

Washakie

Weston