Nebraska farmers finally are getting a break from the drought — and it's not just because of this week's rain.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released a list of counties designated as primary natural disaster areas for 2013. Only one of Nebraska's 93 counties, Richardson County, is ineligible for benefits.
“I'm not surprised that there's a majority of Nebraska counties covered,” said Steve Nelson, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau.
The past year went into the record books as one of the hottest and driest ever. Nebraska has been the epicenter of the drought.
In Iowa, six counties made the disaster list for 2013: Woodbury, Monona, Harrison, Pottawattamie, Mills and Fremont — all of them along the Missouri River.
By the end of the farming season in 2012, every county in Nebraska was eligible for benefits.
“The widespread area of the drought and the extreme level are very unusual in their occurrence,” said Dan Steinkruger, executive director of the USDA's Farm Service Agency in Nebraska. The disaster designation allows farmers in affected counties to apply for low-interest emergency loans with the Farm Service Agency.
Farmers have eight months to apply for the loans, which are intended to cover drought losses.
“For those farmers and ranchers who qualify, certainly that's helpful,” Nelson said.
But the loans are a short-term fix, Steinkruger said. “What we need most is rain.”
Steinkruger said the drought has put the livestock industry under severe pressure.
Ranchers are “reducing the number of cows that they have. They had a loss of grass last year, and we have poor pasture development ahead of us because of the drought. If you talk to climatologists, we've got a pretty significant hole to dig out of.”