(July 9) Not only did a heavy drought fuel Western wildfires during June, it also forced U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman to declare disaster areas in three states, agriculture officials report.

The declaration, which names 33 counties in New Mexico, 15 counties in Georgia and six counties in Wyoming, is part of a continuing effort to expedite emergency disaster relief, making qualified growers in these states immediately eligible for USDA low-interest, emergency farm loans.

“Farmers and ranchers in these regions have suffered tremendous crop losses due to adverse weather conditions,” Veneman said in a news release. “These emergency loans will bring much-needed relief to these regions.”

In Georgia, freezing weather last winter — primarily in the southeastern part of the state — hit Evans, Montgomery, Tattnall and Toombs counties, where about 95% of the state’s Vidalia onions are grown.

Ninety-one farmers and almost 11,000 acres have been affected in these counties, which have been named primary disaster areas, said Cynthia Valles, southeast region public affairs specialist for the Georgia State Farm Service Agency, Athens.

Michael Hively, general manager for Reidsville, Ga.-based Bland Farms, said about 10% of the company’s acreage, which is located in Tattnall County, was damaged.

“We did lose some acreage due to the weather, but as far as a direct impact, the damage was minimal,” he said.

Hively said Bland Farms would consider applying for the loans, due to their low-interest nature, but it “all depends on how the loans are structured,” he said.

Also eligible for assistance are the contiguous counties of Appling, Bulloch, Candler, Emanuel, Jeff Davis, Long, Liberty, Bryan, Treutten, Wayne and Wheeler. In all, more than 14,850 acres have been affected in the state.

Brenda Carlson, southwest region public affairs specialist for the Texas State Farm Service Agency, College Station, said the drought in New Mexico has taken its toll on agricultural production there as well.

In New Mexico — where “nothing has been left untouched,” Carlson said — lettuce, onions, pecans, zucchini, asparagus, sweet corn, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini and apples have been affected. Counties named primary disaster areas include Bernalillo, Catron, Cibola, Colfax, Curry, DeBaca, Dona Ana, Grant, Guadalupe, Harding, Hidalgo, Lea, Lincoln, Luna, McKinley, Mora, Quay, Rio Arriba, Roosevelt, San Juan, San Miguel, Sandoval, Santa Fe, Sierra, Socorro, Taos, Torrance, Union and Valencia. The contiguous counties also eligible for assistance are Chaves, Eddy, Los Alamos and Otero.

Farmers in the eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for assistance.