Worsening drought conditions in Alabama prompted state and federal agriculture officials to designate 16 counties as primary natural disaster areas.
The designation allows farmers in those and surrounding counties to apply for federal loans.
Eleven counties were added to the disaster list this week: Butler, Cherokee, Colbert, Cullman, DeKalb, Franklin, Jackson, Lauderdale, Madison, Marshall and Morgan. Baldwin, Conecuh, Escambia, Mobile and Monroe were given the designation in September.
“We recognize that the drought conditions have hit Alabama farmers hard and hope this disaster relief from USDA will ease some of the financial burdens,” Alabama Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Rick Pate said in a written statement. “We encourage farmers to reach out to their local USDA offices for details about available funding.”
The contiguous counties included in the declaration are: Blount, Butler, Calhoun, Clarke, Cleburne, Conecuh, Covington, Crenshaw, Etowah, Lawrence, Limestone, Lowndes, Marion, Monroe, Walker, Washington, Wilcox and Winston.
According to the latest data from the U.S. Drought Monitor, 89% of Alabama is experiencing some level of drought conditions. In 11.6% of the state, the level is extreme.
The disaster declaration means farm operators in the primary and contiguous counties may be eligible for Farm Service Agency emergency loan assistance. Farmers have up to eight months from the declaration to apply for a loan.
Drought conditions have also increased wildfires in the state. Every county is under a fire alert. No permits for burning of woodlands or grasslands in northern Alabama are being issued. Permits for southern counties are limited.