While late fall and early winter rains gave parts of the Southwest a brief respite from a dry season last summer, a lack of rain across the mid- and late winter season and a forecast for drier conditions as farmers head into the summer months this year have heightened concerns that the drought could intensify and stretch well into 2014 for much of the region.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has designated six counties in New Mexico as primary natural disaster areas this month due to the drought. The counties include Dona Ana, Grant, Hidalgo, Luna, Otero and Sierra. In addition, USDA has designated nine counties in Texas as primary natural disaster areas due to the drought. They include Caldwell, DeWitt, El Paso, Fayette, Gonzales, Guadalupe, Karnes, Lavaca and Wilson.
This updates the list of eligible counties since the last USDA drought disaster declaration released on Mar. 6.
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"Our hearts go out to those New Mexico farmers and ranchers affected by recent natural disasters," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "President Obama and I are committed to ensuring that agriculture remains a bright spot in our nation’s economy by sustaining the successes of America’s farmers, ranchers, and rural communities through these difficult times. We’re also telling New Mexico and Texas producers that USDA stands with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood."
In spite of dry conditions across the Southwest, FSA says conditions aren't as bad as they were this time last year when extreme to exceptional drought covered about half of New Mexico and much of West and Central Texas.
Farmers and ranchers in all of those counties in both states qualify for natural disaster assistance. The counties were designated natural disaster areas on March 12, 2014, making all qualified farm operators in the designated areas 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 says they 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.
Additional programs available to assist farmers and ranchers include 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.
The latest U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook released in late Feb. and covering the period of Feb. 20 through May 20, 2014, indicates drought continued to expand and intensify across parts of California, the desert Southwest and the southern Rockies. Outside of spotty precipitation over southern and western Texas, drought also expanded across much of the central and southern Plains, and short term drought developed along the western Gulf Coast.
According to the report, drought persistence and expansion are anticipated for California, the Southwest, and the Southern Plains due to dry initial conditions heading into the climatologically drier spring season. The three-month outlook tilts the odds towards below-median precipitation over parts of the Southwest and California.
While locally heavy precipitation is forecast in the short term for parts of the central and western Gulf Coast, which would ease short term drought conditions, the CPC seasonal outlook indicates enhanced chances of below-median rainfall. With 90-day precipitation totals generally below 75 percent of normal, it is possible for short term drought reductions to be offset by redevelopment later in the spring.