For many producers and rural communities, the summer of 2012 has been defined by a record drought.

From the early days of this disaster, USDA has taken action to help. We’ve streamlined our disaster designation process, provided easier access to farm credit, opened more conservation lands for emergency haying and grazing, and much more.

Meanwhile, we continue to convene regular meetings of White House Rural Council to coordinate the Federal response and identify every effort we can take to provide additional help and assistance.

For example, the Small Business Administration and National Credit Union Administration have worked to increase emergency lending for small businesses. The Department of Interior has opened more Federal land for grazing. The Department of Transportation has taken measures to get more trucks on the road in the relief effort. And the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working to preserve navigation routes on drought-stricken waterways.

At the same time, USDA’s tools are limited today. Many programs authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill expired on October 1. Other aspects of the law will continue to expire in the coming months. This brings tremendous uncertainty for rural families – particularly livestock producers who have lost access to disaster programs, and dairy producers who no longer have access to dairy support programs. But while this is a time of uncertainty, we will continue working to strengthen the drought response.

Today I would like to share with you one more step the Federal government will take to be sure we are helping communities during a tough time.

Over the next three weeks, USDA and other Federal agencies will partner with local stakeholders to conduct workshops in drought-impacted regions. The purpose of these workshops will be for us to listen to producers and communities regarding the intermediate and long-term challenges created by the current drought.

Recovery starts at the local level for all kinds of disaster.  An understanding of local needs is critical for USDA and other Federal agencies. In order to do the most good, we must ensure a strong partnership between local communities, states, tribes, and the Federal government.

These workshops will start in Omaha, Nebraska on October 9. Over the month of October, additional meetings will take place in Pueblo, Colorado; Pine Bluff, Arkansas; and Archbold, Ohio.

There’s no silver bullet to fix the drought. But these workshops will provide an important opportunity for folks to tell us what’s needed. They’ll provide a chance for everyone to learn which tools may be available to help. And the input we receive will help USDA, and other Federal agencies, respond effectively.

Today we remain committed to further strengthening Federal drought recovery efforts. To achieve this, we will continue working hard to expand partnerships with local, state, and tribal leaders in the weeks to come.