Since the beginning of April, Arkansas has suffered a relentless and severe drought affecting the entire State. At last report, more than half of Arkansas was categorized as being in an "exceptional" drought, the highest level measured by the National Weather Service. As these dry conditions persist, the effects are becoming more and more apparent. Forest fires have charred land and property. On farms, crops are shriveling, and the feed for livestock is scarce.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared a drought disaster for all 75 Arkansas counties. This declaration allows growers to access low-interest loans to help keep their farms operational during the drought. Arkansas has also received nearly $3.8 million from the USDA to help farmers plant annual forage plants, replant pastures and improve or dig ponds used to water livestock.
The drought has also been devastating to livestock farms, and I've taken steps at the state level to provide some relief to them. This past week, I designated $2 million from the Governor's Disaster Fund to help ranchers who raise beef and dairy cattle, sheep, and goats. It has become difficult for these farmers to locate, grow or afford hay and other forage for their animals. We will issue grants to these ranchers that, while not making anyone's losses whole again, will help ease the blow. The Arkansas Agriculture Department will administer this Livestock Assistance Grant Program, and payments will be made on a per-head basis for qualifying producers. Applications must be submitted by August 29. Ranchers can call 501-683-4851 for more information.
Earlier this month, I declared a state of emergency in Arkansas to assist with the transport of hay when ranchers were having an especially hard time locating and affording forage. The declaration allows easier transport of hay on controlled highways within certain guidelines and restrictions. More hay is now being transported across the State to support farms with dry pastures that cannot sustain livestock on their own.
I've also sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency, requesting a temporary waiver of ethanol quotas for renewable fuels. The current federal mandates have contributed to a long-term shortage in grain, especially corn. This reduction in available and affordable feed stock was already taking a toll on Arkansas's agriculture this year before the drought worsened. Other governors around the country are making similar requests, but it is particularly important to Arkansas. Chickens, turkeys and cattle - all particularly vulnerable to feed shortages - represent nearly half of our state's farm income.
While forecasts for August rain are improving, much of the drought's damage has been done already. This year's tough growing season comes on the heels of last year's historic floods. Our farm families have survived wild annual swings in weather before. However, the combination of floods, drought and a slow national economic recovery will stretch some farming operations to the breaking point. The State will always provide assistance when we can. Arkansas's rich agricultural tradition will survive these challenging conditions, and we continue to be there to support our farmers as they feed and clothe the world.