Half of U.S. in Severe Drought

Last month, the United States government declared the largest ever natural disaster area by labeling more than 1,000 counties in extreme drought. Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is growing that disaster area by adding 218 more counties in 12 states to the list.

The new disaster area is the largest ever in U.S. history - spanning 32 states in 1,584 counties. That accounts for more than 50 percent of U.S. land.

"Counties in Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wyoming were included in Wednesday's announcement. The USDA uses the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor to help decide which counties to deem disaster areas, which makes farmers and ranchers eligible for federal aid, including low-interest emergency loans." (Read the AP News article.)

With the drought drying up feed and food crops across the country, the USDA is allowing farmers to graze their animals on 3.8 million acres of protected lands. Many insurance companies are also agreeing to a 30-day grace period for farmers on insurance premiums.

"The assistance announced today will help U.S. livestock producers dealing with climbing feed prices, critical shortages of hay and deteriorating pasturelands," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement announcing the moves.

The U.S. Nature Conservancy stated that they are allowing the grazing as long as it is carried out with a minimal effect on wildlife and habitats.

Many officials are worried about how the drought will affect corn prices in the U.S. and abroad. The USDA is raising its prediction of food price inflation, saying that prices could rise as much as 3.5 percent this year and 4 percent in 2013.

- Combat rising food prices with food storage that lasts decades -

The drought is the worst since 1988 when crops suffered across the U.S. and wildfires plagued the country.

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