(WASHINGTON) — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is looking for some divine influence to bring relief from the drought, which is devastating crops and likely to push up food prices.
“I get on my knees every day,” Vilsack told reporters at the White House Wednesday. “And I’m saying an extra prayer now. If I had a rain prayer or a rain dance I could do, I would do it.”
Sixty-one percent of the U.S. is experiencing a drought, the worst in 25 years. Blistering heat and a lack of rain are threatening close to 80 percent of the corn and soy bean crops, leading to declining yields. The country’s livestock is also in harm’s way as a result.
“Our hearts go out to the producers, the farm families who are struggling through something that they obviously have no control over and trying to deal with a very difficult circumstance,” Vilsack said, following his Oval Office meeting with President Obama.
As of Wednesday, nearly 1,300 counties have been designated as disaster areas.
The secretary admitted that the drought, which is already driving up corn and bean prices, will likely impact the greater economic recovery.
“One out of every 12 jobs in the economy is connected in some way, shape or form to what happens on the farm,” he said. “So, obviously, this drought will provide some degree of uncertainty.”
Vilsack urged Congress to provide help and assistance to the nation’s farmers.
“The most important thing is for Congress to take action to provide some direction and assistance so that folks know what’s going to happen, what kind of protection they’re going to have,” he said. “That certainty is really important, and that’s whether they want to get to work on the food, farm and jobs bill, they want to develop a separate disaster program or an extension of existing programs, whatever it might be. Having that done as soon as possible will be quite helpful.”
In the meantime, the USDA is opening areas in the Conservation Reserve Program for emergency grazing and giving farmers access to low-interest federal loans.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Debra Goldschmidt, CNN
Matt Egan, CNN
Kathryn Vasel, CNN
Herb Scribner, Deseret News