USDA adds 16 counties, including Angelina and Nacogdoches, to those eligible for drought relief

SAN AUGUSTINE COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - Drought conditions are evident in a growing number of East Texas counties. Now the U.S. Department of Agriculture is expanding the boundaries for loan assistance. The primary counties are Cherokee, Rusk, Smith, Van Zandt, and Wood.

Sixteen other Texas counties are named as contiguous counties where eligible producers can apply Monday. The contiguous counties include: Anderson, Angelina, Camp, Franklin, Gregg, Harrison, Henderson, Hopkins, Houston, Hunt, Kaufman, Nacogdoches, Panola, Rains, Shelby, and Upshur.

On Monday, the East Texas News listened in on a conversation between a San Augustine County rancher and an Agrilife county agent that focused on the lack of rain.

"Fourteen inches below normal for this time of year," said rancher B.P. Steptoe.

"I do not see since, in the last 47 years, a zero rainfall in August," said Jerry Nickerson, San Augustine County's Texas Agrilife agent.

It was more than talk about the weather. It was a discussion over a person's livelihood. These days, Bermuda grass is a crispy brown. Steptoe has been digging into his pockets to pay for supplemental feed.

"I'm about two weeks been feeding hay cubes and also protein blocks and next week or probably week and a half I'm going to have to start feeding hay," Steptoe said.

The rancher cut his own hay. It wasn't enough. Steptoe had the rest shipped in from Missouri and Kansas. Far-East Texas ranchers rarely have to resort to such measures.

"Our average rainfall in San Augustine County is slightly over 52 inches," Nickerson said. "Last year San Augustine County was among the top four counties in Texas with the most amount of rainfall."

What a difference a year can make.

"If we don't get some rain pretty quick, winter pasture not going to be an option," Steptoe said.

The experienced cattle raiser isn't giving in to the weather or the government. He's not interested in applying for federal assistance.

"It's personal preference," Steptoe said. "I don't like the federal government involved in my business."

Instead, Steptoe plans to plant rye seed and hope for rain to make it grow.

"My ol' cattle are in pretty good shape, Jerry," Steptoe said.  "But they usually just rolling fat this time of year."

San Augustine County has received less rain than what fell in the droughts of 2010 and 2011.

Producers who are interested in federal assistance should call a USDA Farm Service Agency office. Service areas have changed as many of the offices consolidated in August.

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