Twenty-seven California counties were declared as primary natural disaster areas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday due to ongoing drought conditions, but Humboldt County was not among them.
Humboldt County Agricultural Commissioner Jeff Dolf said that this is because the county has already been under a secretarial drought designation since August.
"We're still under a designation that doesn't expire until April 14," Dolf said. "But it is very likely that we will receive another automatic designation."
The designation allows eligible farmers to qualify for low-interest emergency loans from the Farm Service Agency for eight months.
Along with California, federal officials have designated portions of 10 drought-ridden western and central states as primary natural disaster areas, highlighting the financial strain the lack of rain is likely to bring to farmers in those regions. The announcement included counties in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Kansas, Texas, Utah, Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho and Oklahoma.
In order to qualify for the designation, Dolf said the counties must have suffered eight weeks of severe (D2) drought conditions as determined by the U.S. Drought Monitor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Humboldt County is on its way to obtaining another designation, Dolf said.
"We have returned to a severe drought status in December," he said. "If we don't receive any rain for the next few weeks, we will be designated for emergency services again. We reset the clock."
As of Tuesday, the monitor showed the very southern portion of the county -- along with most of the state -- undergoing a D3 designation, indicating an "extreme drought."
Department of Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack said he and President Obama want to ensure that agriculture remains a bright spot in the nation's economy.
"USDA stands with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood." Vilsack said in statement.
Dolf said that if the drought continues, local producers must prepare for the worst.
"It affects agriculture right now, but it kind of snowballs," Dolf said. "If you're not able to get any grass growth, the cattle and dairy farmers won't be able to feed their cows and will have to buy feed from outside sources, which will be very costly."
While storms have dumped rain and snow in the East, droughts are persisting or intensifying in the West. A ridge of high pressure is to blame for keeping storms off the Pacific coast and guiding them to the East.
As this ridge persists, hydrologist Reggie Kennedy of the National Weather Service in Eureka said that the county will receive "zero rains over the next few weeks."
Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Will_S_Houston