All Kansas counties except one declared disaster areas because of drought

As drought conditions continue into the new year, nearly all of Kansas has been declared a federal disaster area in 2013.

The disaster-area designation, announced Wednesday by the United States Department of Agriculture, makes low-interest federal emergency loans available to farmers in drought-affected areas. All Kansas counties, with the exception of Doniphan County, are included.

Almost 80 percent of the state is experiencing extreme drought conditions, including parts of Douglas, Franklin and Jefferson counties, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a partnership of federal and academic agencies.

Northeastern Kansas has missed out on more than 12 inches of precipitation over the past year compared with the average, and experts say there is no good news in the immediate forecast.

“Not much has changed,” said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist who tracks drought conditions at the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb.

“I think we’ll be dealing with this drought for a significant portion of 2013, unless the pattern changes,” he said.

The light snow and rain Lawrence has seen in recent months haven’t made a dent in that shortfall, Fuchs said. It takes 15 inches of snow in northeastern Kansas to equal one inch of liquid water, and the immediate Lawrence area was more than 11 inches below average for 2012.

The entire state of Kansas was declared a disaster area in July 2012, and Wednesday’s announcement covers farmers for another year of drought. The emergency loans will be available to farmers to help cover losses throughout 2013. Today, the interest rate on those loans is 2.15 percent.

It’s not usual for counties and states to immediately be designated federal disaster areas with the start of a new year, said farm loan specialist Lee Hartford at the USDA Kansas Farm Loan Office in Manhattan. Since July, areas of severe to exceptional drought have automatically become eligible for disaster relief.

Along with Kansas, parts of 13 other states were included in Wednesday’s declaration, including Missouri and Oklahoma. These are the first federally designated disaster areas of the year.

Gov. Sam Brownback will meet Friday with state and federal officials charged with responding to the drought in Kansas.