SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman has signed a declaration making all 29 Utah counties eligible for drought assistance, state ag officials said Wednesday.
The designation came after extreme drought conditions prompted Gov. Olene Walker to request federal disaster assistance last month for thousands of farmers and ranchers hit hard by prolonged dry conditions and insect infestations.
"We are pleased that Secretary Veneman has acted so quickly in extending aid to Utah farmers and ranchers," Walker said. "The designation will help many operators remain in business, and that is good news for their families and our state."
Veneman designated 20 counties eligible for the designation based on the level of damage caused by drought, insects, damaging wind, and heat. Nine other counties also qualify for aid because they border those 20 counties.
"The damaging drought is not limited to just 20 of our counties," Utah Commissioner of Agriculture and Food Cary G. Peterson said.
"Low or non-existent reservoir levels can be seen throughout the state, and I am happy to see all Utah farmers and ranchers will be eligible for some form of relief," he added.
That relief could to Utah and other drought-plagued states after the passage by the U.S. Senate of $2.9 billion in farm and ranch disaster funding.
The funding is included in a $36 billion homeland security bill passed by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday night. The bill now goes to a conference committee, where members of the House and Senate will work out the differences between their two versions of the bill.
The House already passed its version of the homeland security bill without the disaster aid for agriculture.
If passed by Congress, and signed by President Bush, the disaster funding would be funneled through existing U.S. Department of Agriculture programs and divided, with $2.5 billion going to cover crop losses, $475 million to livestock losses and $20 million to tree losses.
Residents of counties with disaster declarations would be eligible.
The 20 counties designated as primary disaster counties are: Box Elder, Cache, Carbon, Emery, Garfield, Grand, Iron, Juab, Kane, Millard, Piute, Rich, Salt Lake, San Juan, Sanpete, Sevier, Summit, Tooele, Washington and Wayne.
Also qualifying for assistance, but designated as contiguous counties, are: Beaver, Daggett, Davis, Duchesne, Morgan, Uintah, Utah, Wasatch and Weber.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)