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Entire state of Mo. now federal agricultural disaster area

(Malory Ensor/KOMU News via Flickr)
A farmer in Boone County, Mo. shows how big an ear of corn should be. The USDA on Tuesday declared the rest of the state's counties a disaster area.

Updated with comments from McCaskill conference call.

The entire state of Missouri is now a federal agriculture disaster area.

Seventeen of the state's counties, mostly in the Bootheel, had already received that declaration. Today's announcement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture extends that declaration to the other 97 counties and the city of St. Louis.

The declaration makes farmers and ranchers in the state eligible for low-interest emergency loans and other assistance from the USDA's Farm Service Agency. They're asked to keep track of their crop and livestock losses, as well as any additional costs they accrue battling the heat and drought.

Gov. Jay Nixon spent Tuesday surveying the damage at farms in northern Missouri.

The declaration gave Sen. Claire McCaskill an opportunity to blast the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives for sitting on the farm bill, which passed the Senate nearly a month ago.

Two of McCaskill's potential opponents in November - former state treasurer Sarah Steelman and U.S. Rep. Todd Akin have both said they oppose the farm bill, mostly due to provisions dealing with food stamps. McCaskill said that position shows the two don't understand Missouri agriculture. Her third potential opponent, John Brunner, has not yet taken a position on the bill.

A temporary extension is likely, McCaskill said, and it would provide financial support to corn, soybean and other commodities farmers in Missouri. But cattle ranchers would only be able to graze their livestock on land that's currently part of the federal conservation program.

"Unfortunately, that land is just as burnt as the other land, as so there really isn't good grazing or haying opportunities," she said.

Saline County farmer Stanton Thompson, who joined McCaskill on the call, says he's purchased crop insurance for decades, often with premium that's subsidized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The subsidy is part of the farm bill.

"My friends and I are looking into the crop year 2013, and it's pretty scary in my opinion to be looking at the possibility of no insurance coverages, or at least those that are no longer subsidized," Lawrence said, "because the premiums will just be extraordinarily high and unaffordable as far as I'm concerned."

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