Summer's drought and excessive heat have led the U.S. Department of Agriculture to declare 44 Illinois counties natural disaster areas.


Farmers and ranchers in another 33 counties also qualify for assistance because they are contiguous to the affected areas.


The declaration means farmers and ranchers can qualify for low-interest emergency loans to help cover part of their actual losses. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from Oct. 31 to apply.


Other assistance programs also are available.


The 44 counties are: Adams, Douglas, Hamilton, Lawrence, Richland, Brown, Edgar, Hancock, Macon, Rock Island, Champaign, Edwards, Hardin, Marion, Saline, Christian, Effingham, Henry, Massac, Shelby, Clark, Fayette, Iroquois, McDonough, Vermilion, Clay, Ford, Jasper, McLean, Wabash, Clinton, Franklin, Jefferson, Morgan, Wayne, Crawford, Fulton, Johnson, Piatt, Williamson, Cumberland, Gallatin, Knox and Pope.


Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.