July 27, 2005

Nearly all of Illinois declared drought disaster

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Agriculture Department on
Wednesday declared virtually all of Illinois a disaster area
eligible for low-interest loans because of crops withered by
this summer's drought.

Only one county -- Alexander County in the southernmost tip
of the state -- is not included in the disaster declaration.

"I am very pleased that USDA is able to offer this
assistance to Illinois farmers and ranchers struggling due to
the drought and look forward to visiting with them in the near
future," Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said in a

Illinois has been gripped by drought ranked as "extreme" or
"severe" in recent weeks by the U.S. Agriculture Department's
weather experts. State rainfall from March through June was
just 8.5 inches, about half the normal level.

On Monday, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat,
requested federal disaster aid. He said more than 117,000
farmers statewide have reported production losses, including
74,000 who estimated the drought would destroy at least
one-third of their crops.

Last year, Illinois was the nation's second largest corn
producer, harvesting nearly 20 percent of the record 11.8
billion bushel U.S. crop.

The USDA declaration designated 93 Illinois counties as
primary disaster areas and eligible to apply for low-interest
loans from the USDA's Farm Service Agency. Eight more counties
are also eligible because they are contiguous.

Farmers have eight months to apply for the loans to help
cover part of their actual losses.