Natural disaster declared in Georgia after exceptional drought

More than 30 counties in Georgia have been designated as “primary natural disaster areas” by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in the wake of severe droughts across the state.

The areas, announced on Thursday by the USDA, include 10 in the metropolitan area of Atlanta.

Crippling droughts have gripped the Peach State in recent weeks, during the growing season. The state is the highest producer of peanuts, pecans, blueberries and more.

According to the US Drought Monitor, the designated counties suffered droughts ranging from “exceptional” to “extreme”. Farmers affected by the droughts can apply for emergency loans through the Farm Service Agency (FSA).

The loans can be used to meet various recovery needs including the replacement of essential items such as equipment or livestock, reorganisation of a farming operation, or to refinance certain debts.

FSA will review the loans based on the extent of losses, security available, and repayment ability.

“Our agency stands committed to providing support to our agricultural producers who are recovering from natural disasters,” Arthur Tripp, the FSA’s state executive director for Georgia, said in a news release.

“Drought conditions can be devastating for many agricultural operations. Through these designations, Georgia’s farmers and ranchers will have access to the emergency credit that is critical to their recovery from severe drought conditions.”

In November, low rainfall led to droughts ranging from “moderate” to “exceptional” in north Georgia, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The droughts also increased the risk of wildfires in Georgia, NOAA said.

In Walker County, which was placed under an “exceptional” drought warning in November, firefighters spent days battling a blaze spanning 1,400 acres, according to the Georgia Forestry Commission.

Almost 900 more acres were burned in Dade County wildfires, while 50 acres burned in a Gilmer County wildfire during the period.

Around 5.4 million Georgians were subsequently affected by the droughts — especially farmers, who reported heavy crop losses and delayed harvests from the parched soil.

A 2022 census showed there were more than 39,000 farms in Georgia and nearly 10 million acres of farmland, according to the Georgia Farm Bureau Federation.

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