USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is expanding a previously announced drought assistance program to $3 million.

Four additional counties have been added to the program and all eligible counties will now have until May 22 to apply. The four new counties include: Santa Cruz, Siskiyou, Solano, and Ventura. Farmers and ranchers in designated counties with extreme or severe drought conditions, or continuous moderate drought over a multi-year period may apply for assistance from NRCS.

During the special sign-up, NRCS will take applications for practices designed to protect soil and air quality in areas of fallowed fields, keep orchard trees alive, and protect natural resources on ranch and pasture land.

Due to the extraordinary conditions, NRCS will pay a higher-than-normal 75 percent cost share rate. Deliveries from both state and federal water have been adjusted up slightly, but are still just 10 percent to 30 percent of normal. Some local irrigation districts in Northern California have also had to reduce water delivery to agricultural producers to zero. A half million acres of crop land has been idled due to lack of adequate water to bring up a crop.

The $3 million is being made available in: Alameda, Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Fresno, Glenn, Humboldt, Inyo, Kern, Kings, Lake, Lassen, Los Angeles, Madera, Marin, Mariposa, Mendocino, Merced, Modoc, Monterey, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Benito, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Tulare, Tuolumne, Ventura, Yolo, and Yuba.

Practices offered through the program include establishing vegetative cover, soil surface roughening, incorporation of soil-stabilizing organic matter, silt fencing adjacent to highways, irrigation water management, pruning to keep trees alive, livestock watering facilities, maintaining standing stubble and more.

More information on the drought, conservation practices that may mitigate drought-related problems, and payment rates for the current drought initiative are available at California NRCS or by contacting the local NRCS office.