The secretary also said she is forming a Drought Coordinating Council to monitor ongoing drought conditions and coordinate USDA’s efforts to bring help to affected producers and communities.

“This Administration has remained committed to providing relief to producers who have faced difficult times because of drought.” Veneman said. “Many regions continue to face persistent and severe drought conditions. The new council will monitor the situation and coordinate the resources we have available to address needs where they exist.”

Veneman made the announcements during a briefing from USDA’s radio broadcast studios, where she was joined by Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns, co-leader of the Western Governors Associations’ drought response efforts; Vernon Hill, Chairman of the Eastern Shoshone Business Council of the Wind River Indian Reservation; and USDA Chief Economist Keith Collins.

The Drought Coordinating Council will bring together resources from USDA’s Farm Service Agency; the Risk Management Agency; the Natural Resources Conservation Service; the U.S. Forest Service; the Agricultural Research Service; the Cooperative State Research, Extension and Education Service; the National Agricultural Statistics Service; the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service; the Agricultural Marketing Service and agencies under Rural Development.

Also, representatives from the Office of the Chief Economist and the Office of Budget and Program Analysis participate in the Council, which will proactively plan and respond to the threat of drought.

The Council is also working with the Department of Interior and other federal, state and local entities to coordinate wildfire prevention and suppression efforts and aid families, businesses and communities impacted by drought.

Veneman said the 2003 Livestock Feed Program will provide timely relief for livestock producers in areas hit hardest by drought by making available surplus stocks of non-fat dry milk (NDM), which are not intended for nor destined for human consumption. The stocks will be provided at a minimal cost to several states and tribal governments in areas designated as severely impacted by drought.

“One of our most pressing concerns right now is the ability of pasture and grazing lands to support livestock herds,” said Veneman. “Non-fat dry milk can serve as a high quality source of protein to maintain foundation livestock herds in this critical time.”

USDA will partner with state and tribal governments to move the non-fat dry milk to eligible producers. Approximately 100 counties in nine states currently meet the initial eligibility criteria. The states with eligible counties are: Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. Eligible counties are listed on www.usda.gov.

The U.S. Drought Monitor will be used to determine which counties are eligible, and eligibility will be re-evaluated every 30 days to ensure the program is targeted to producers in greatest need. To be eligible, counties must meet one of the following two criteria:

  • Be a county or part of a county located in a D4-Exceptional category on the Drought Monitor at any time on or between Sept. 3, 2002, and March 11, 2003, and on the March 11, 2003, Monitor be located in at least D3-Extreme or D4-Exceptional area.
  • Be a county or part of a county located in a D4-Exceptional area on the Drought Monitor on March 11, 2003.
Eligible livestock are foundation herds (breeding and replacement stock) of beef cattle, buffalo, sheep, and goats. The allocation of NDM for a county will be based on a renewable, if applicable, 30-day supply, based upon two pounds of NDM per day for beef cattle and buffalo, and one-half pound of NDM per day for sheep and goats.

In addition to the 2003 Livestock Feed Program, assistance for livestock producers is provided through the Livestock Compensation Program (LCP), for which sign-up began April 1, and through the Livestock Assistance Program (LAP), for which sign-up will begin in July after LCP payments have been completed. Both programs were authorized by the Agriculture Assistance Act of 2003. USDA’s Farm Service Agency also operates “HayNet” (http://www.fsa.usda.gov/haynet/) that serves as an electronic bulletin board where ranchers in need of hay can find critical information about the nearest supply.

Veneman noted that in the past year, the Bush administration has worked to make every tool available to help farmers and ranchers impacted by drought, including declaring disaster emergencies as quickly as possible, making low-interest loans available to producers, ensuring that more than $4.4 billion in crop insurance was available to help cover losses, extending haying and grazing Conservation Reserve Program acres to provide feed for livestock and developing a livestock compensation program that provided over $1 billion in immediate assistance to producers most impacted by drought.

Information on all USDA programs available to assist producers including those provided by the Agricultural Assistance Act of 2003 is available at www.usda.gov.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com