More counties added to list of drought affected in U.S.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has designated 39 more counties in eight states as natural disaster areas as the country struggles with its worst drought since 1956.

Wednesday’s declaration makes farmers and ranchers eligible for low-interest government loans to cover their losses.

Little rain and high temperatures have put 61 percent of the continental United States in a moderate to exceptional drought this year. Agriculture officials say nearly 1,300 counties across 29 states have been designated disaster areas for the 2012 crop year.

Vilsack met with President Barack Obama Wednesday, saying 38 percent of the U.S. corn crop and 30 percent of soybeans are rated poor to very poor. Corn and soybean prices have soared.

Vilsack said he and President Obama are committed to ensuring that agriculture remains a bright spot in the U.S. economy.

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