ST. PAUL — United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday, Aug. 18, opened up disaster relief funding to farmers and other agriculture producers in 18 more Minnesota counties facing drought.

In a news release Wednesday morning, U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith said producers in Becker, Blue Earth, Brown, Clay, Cottonwood, Faribault, Jackson, Le Sueur, Martin, Murray, Nicollet, Nobles, Norman, Otter Tail, Redwood, Waseca, Watonwan and Wilkin counties would become eligible for disaster loans and additional aid under the new designation.

Producers around the state have reported difficulties in maintaining crops and getting adequate food and water supplies to livestock due to severe drought conditions in much of the state. Vilsack last week joined Minnesota elected officials and agriculture leaders to tour affected farms.

“The drought across the upper Midwest has created incredibly difficult conditions for Minnesota’s farmers and livestock producers,” Klobuchar said. “This designation will help provide relief during this challenging time, and I will continue pushing for policies and resources to meet the needs of our rural communities.”

Smith said the tour with the top USDA official helped bring a focus to Minnesota but farmers needed more assistance to weather the extremely dry conditions.

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“This designation will be helpful, but I am going to continue to press for more action to deal with the statewide impact of this summer’s drought," she said.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson, call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com