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AGRICULTURE REPORT - Dry Conditions Lead to Government Aid in the West and South

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This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Last week, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced help for American farmers hurt by lack of rain. Mister Johanns said the total amount of aid is about seven hundred eighty million dollars. The aid will include loans, indirect payments and other assistance for farmers in the central western and southern United States.

Important farming areas have experienced dry weather for several months. The drought has hurt both crop producers and those raising cattle, or ranchers. The weather has harmed some areas, but left others with enough rain for near record crops. The Northeast, for example, had heavy rainfall during the same period.

The U.S. Drought Monitor studies drought conditions across the country. The service operates as part of the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska.

The Monitor recently reported that exceptional drought conditions exist in Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas. It also said that parts of Alabama, Arizona, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska and Wyoming have an extremely severe drought.

Secretary Johanns spoke with reporters during a visit last Thursday to South Dakota. He said sixty-four percent of beef cows in America are in drought areas. The dry conditions have left little or no grass in many areas where cattle are raised. Ranchers who feed their cattle grass for part of the year have had to buy food or sell some or all of their animals.

The Department of Agriculture will provide fifty million dollars in aid for ranchers. That money will go to affected states in the form of awards, or grants. It will then be given to ranchers. The grants do not have to be repaid.

The drought has also affected cotton, sorghum and peanut growers. Farmers in dry states have been offered payments totaling seven hundred million dollars. This aid is part of the Direct and Counter-cyclical Payment Program. It pays farmers an amount based on a set price for their crop and the number of hectares they have. The Program is designed to lift farm income when prices drop. This year, Secretary Johanns has moved up payments so that farmers can receive them now instead of later in the year.

Yet the Middle West -- an area known as the Corn Belt -- has received enough rain. Farmers there are expecting excellent harvests of soybeans and corn. And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Mario Ritter. I'm Shep O'Neal.

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