The U.S. Department of Agriculture declared Aroostook County a drought disaster area Monday, a designation that could also make farmers in four contiguous counties eligible for low interest federal emergency loans.

Under the declaration by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, farms in Aroostook County, as well as Penobscot, Piscataquis, Somerset and Washington counties, are now eligible to apply for federal emergency loans. The counties will have up to eight months to apply.

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry is encouraging Maine farmers to contact their local USDA Farm Service Agency office for financial assistance and for information regarding other types of relief available to farmers. The emergency loans may be used for restoring or replacing essential property, paying all or part of production costs, paying for essential family living expenses, reorganizing the farming operation, or refinancing debt.

Other programs available to farmers during a drought include the Livestock Forage Program, which provides payments to livestock producers for grazing losses attributed to the cost of transporting water to livestock during a drought. The Emergency Conservation Program provides help obtaining water for grazing and irrigation systems during a drought.

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