Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman designated the entire state of Montana as a drought disaster area. This designation makes Montana farmers and ranchers immediately eligible for USDA emergency farm loans due to losses caused by drought this year.

"We have heard first hand about the impact of drought," Veneman said. "This emergency assistance will help farmers and ranchers recover from the devastating effects."

Veneman made the announcement with Gov. Judy Martz and Sen. Conrad Burns while attending a rural development conference in Bozeman. Earlier in the day, the Secretary met with local farmers and ranchers in Missoula at an agricultural roundtable discussion hosted by Congressman Dennis Rehberg.

This designation makes all qualified farm operators in all counties eligible for low-interest emergency loans from the Farm Service Agency, provided eligibility requirements are met. Farmers have eight months from the date of this declaration to apply for the loans to help cover part of their actual losses. FSA will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available, and repayment ability.

FSA has a variety of programs available, in addition to the emergency loan program, to help eligible farmers recover from adversity. Interested farmers may contact their local FSA offices for further information on eligibility requirements and application procedures. Additional information is also available online at: www.fsa.usda.gov/pas/disaster/assistance1.htm.