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U.S. pledges help for Texas farmers hit by record drought

Bachman Lake
Bachman Lake in Dallas is drying up because of the record-breaking drought in North Texas  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said Thursday that federal officials would look for ways to help farmers and ranchers survive a record-breaking drought in North Texas.

"We have just got to roll up our sleeves and work on a variety of ways to help these folks through this terrible, terrible dry weather crisis," Glickman told CNN. He said low-interest loans would be among the remedies for the bleak situation.

The drought has run for 62 days straight, prompting the federal government to declare 177 counties in Texas disaster areas.

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Water well drillers are very popular in north Texas right now. Correspondent Don Wall goes out with a crew

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Pay a visit to parched Texas, with CNN's Charles Zewe

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Glickman, who visited the drought-stricken region earlier this week, criticized the 1996 farm bill as being inadequate for dealing with situations such as those faced by North Texas farmers and ranchers. The farm bill is designed to help conserve the nation's smaller farms, and establishes policies for credit, rural development and trade, among other things.

At the time of the bill's signing in 1996, Glickman expressed concern that it did not offer an adequate safety net for farmers.

Referring to the drought, Glickman said Congress and the Clinton administration have often provided yearly supplemental disaster request, and "perhaps that's going to be needed again.

"Quite frankly, most members of both political parties agree that (the farm bill) is going to have to be rewritten, or rewritten in a very dramatic way. But, in the meantime ... we are going to try and provide these farmers and ranchers with assistance to help them make it through this terrible crisis," Glickman said.

Texas' previous drought record was 58 consecutive days without rain, set in 1934 between May and July. It was repeated in 1950 between November and December.

National Weather Service meteorologist "Skip" Ely said the dry pattern is caused by a persistent area of high pressure that has dominated North Texas weather since the end of June, blocking normal moisture flows across the South.

The pattern is common when La Nina -- the cooler than normal waters in the Eastern Equatorial Pacific -- influences upper air patterns across the southern United States.

Trammel and Akin
Bill Trammell, right, and Rod Akin of Gable Excavating fend off the heat with an umbrella and plenty of water on Monday in Euless, Texas  

This is the third consecutive summer with extended heat and drought in Texas. There were 56 rainless days between July and the beginning of September 1999, and 1998 saw the driest April through September period in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

National Weather Service Southern Regional Director Bill Proenza said the drought is also affecting the South. "While Southern wildfires have not been as plentiful as those in the West, the drought conditions in this region are even more extreme," he said. "The heat and lack of rain has dramatically decreased soil moisture in the South. Agriculture across the Southern United States is suffering."

The National Weather Service's extended forecast for North Texas calls for continued clear skies and daily temperatures peaking around 100 degrees. No immediate relief is in sight.



RELATED STORIES:
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Glickman visits drought-stricken Texas
August 30, 2000
Doozy of a dry spell in North Texas
August 29, 2000
North Texas faces longest drought
August 28, 2000
Drought in West puts fisheries in hot water
August 1, 2000
Taps threaten to run dry in Texas town after years of little rain
July 11, 2000

RELATED SITES:
National Weather Service
United States Department of Agriculture
Texas Agricultural Extension Service
Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum Conservation Center
Drought Monitor

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