The USDA has designated 44 counties in Mississippi as primary natural disaster areas due a drought that occurred between May 1, 2010 and Dec. 31, 2010.

The Mississippi counties are: Amite, Hancock, Leflore, Quitman, Benton, Harrison, Lincoln, Sharkey, Bolivar, Hinds, Lowndes, Simpson, Carroll, Holmes, Marshall, Stone, Chickasaw, Issaquena, Monroe, Sunflower, Claiborne, Jefferson, Newton, Tallahatchie, Clay, Davis, Noxubee, Jefferson Davis, Tate, Coahoma, Jones, Oktibbeha, Tunica, Covington, Kemper, Panola, Wilkinson, DeSoto, Leake, Pearl River, Winston, Franklin, Lee, Pike and Yazoo.

“President Obama and I understand these conditions caused producers to suffer significant losses to corn, soybeans, forage crops, and pasture, and we want to help,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “This action will provide help to hundreds of farmers who suffered significant production losses.”

Farmers and ranchers in the following counties in Mississippi also qualify for natural disaster assistance because their counties are contiguous: Adams, Humphreys, Marion, Tippah, Attala, Itawamba, Montgomery, Union, Calhoun, Jackson, Neshoba, Walthall, Choctaw, Jasper, Perry, Warren, Clarke, Lafayette, Pontotoc, Washington, Copiah, Lamar, Prentiss, Wayne, Forrest, Lauderdale, Rankin, Webster, George, Lawrence, Scott, Yalobusha, Grenada, Madison, and Smith.

Farmers and ranchers in the following counties in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee also qualify for natural disaster assistance because their counties are contiguous.

Alabama: Lamar, Marion, Pickens, and Sumter.

Arkansas: Chicot, Crittenden, Desha, Lee, and Phillips.

Louisiana: Concordia, East Feliciana, St. Helena, Tangipahoa, Washington, East Carroll, Madison, St. Tamany, Tensas, and West Feliciana.

Tennessee: Fayette, Hardeman, and Shelby.

All counties listed above were designated natural disaster areas on Feb. 28, 2011, 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 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 2008 farm bill; 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.