MISSISSIPPI STATE, Miss., — Mississippi producers suffering losses from Hurricane Katrina can apply for a portion of the $170 million in disaster assistance made available by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Mississippi has $7.1 million earmarked through the Emergency Conservation Program. Other funds are available through the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, Emergency Loan Program, Farm Storage Facility Loans and the Disaster Debt Set-Aside Program.

The USDA financial assistance announcement was made in early September to aid producers struggling with hurricane losses.

Bill Herndon, agricultural economist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said all the details of the programs have not yet emerged.

“We’re feeling our way through this process. No one knows the timetable for when aid will be distributed,” Herndon said. “USDA has given money for disaster relief in the past, but this is a new one for us in Mississippi to receive these kinds, level and scale of assistance.”

When Pres. George W. Bush declared a major disaster for the state on Aug. 29, 47 of 82 counties in Mississippi were already eligible for all available assistance.

“USDA has reviewed documentation for the remaining 35 Mississippi counties and determined that 31 of them have sustained sufficient production losses to warrant a disaster designation. The remaining four counties are eligible as contiguous counties, resulting in eligibility across the entire state of Mississippi,” USDA states on its Web site,” said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. “This agriculture disaster designation will enable eligible producers to apply for low-interest emergency loans from USDA to help cover their losses. This announcement is a part of our commitment to help farmers and ranchers to rebuild their operations.”

Will McCarty, state program leader for Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources, said people in agriculture in Mississippi have suffered many disasters before, although none have covered as wide an area as this one.

“Farmers are very resourceful and very resilient,” McCarty said. “While many growers have suffered tremendous losses and will go through hardships and temporary shutdowns, they should survive long-term.”

McCarty advised state producers to contact their local USDA-Farm Service Agency office to learn eligibility requirements and application procedures. Details are available in the offices and online at http://www.usda.gov.

“It could be a wise business decision to see what they offer,” McCarty said.

Bonnie Coblentz writes for Mississippi State University Ag Communications.