The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated California’s Shasta County as a primary natural disaster area due to losses caused by drought since Jan. 1, 2009.

“President Obama and I understand these conditions caused severe damage to this area and serious harm to farms in California and we want to help," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "This action will provide help to hundreds of farmers who suffered significant production losses to pasture and forage."

Farm operators in Lassen, Modoc, Plumas, Siskiyou, Tehama, and Trinity counties in California also qualify for natural disaster assistance since the counties are contiguous.

All counties listed above were designated natural disaster areas Dec. 15, making all qualified farm operators in the designated areas eligible for low interest emergency (EM) loans from USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) provided eligibility requirements are met.

Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for loans to help cover part of their actual losses.

FSA will consider each loan application looking at the extent of losses, security available, and repayment ability. FSA has variety of programs, in addition to the EM loan program, to help eligible farmers recover from adversity.

USDA has also made other programs available to assist farmers and ranchers, including the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE), which was approved as part of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008; the Emergency Conservation Program; Federal Crop Insurance; and the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.

Interested farmers can contact a local USDA Service Center for further information on eligibility requirements and application procedures for programs.

Additional information is also available online at http://disaster.fsa.usda.gov.