U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Thursday issued a Secretarial Disaster Declaration designating 18 Arkansas counties as primary natural disaster areas due to excessive rain, flash flooding, flooding, high winds, and lightening that occurred April 1 through June 11.

Those 18 counties are Bradley, Chicot, Desha, Drew, Lincoln, Arkansas, Jefferson, Calhoun, Phillips, Benton, Pope, Lawrence, Prairie, Pulaski, Lonoke, White, Monroe and Yell.

“This disaster designation is a critical step to helping Arkansas agricultural producers recover from devastating losses as a result of natural disasters,” Arkansas’ congressional delegation members said in a news release. “We are pleased Secretary Vilsack recognizes the need to provide this assistance to our farmers.”

Last month, the congressional delegation wrote a letter to Secretary Vilsack in support of Governor Asa Hutchinson’s request for a Secretarial Disaster Designation.

A Secretarial disaster designation makes farm operators in the 18 primary counties and contiguous disaster counties eligible for certain assistance from FSA, provided eligibility requirements are met. The assistance includes FSA emergency loans.

The contiguous disaster counties are Ashley, Cleveland, Ouachita, Union, Dallas, Garland, Madison, Scott, Carroll, Grant, Montgomery, Searcy, Cleburne, Greene, Newton, Sharp, Independence, Conway, Jackson, Perry, Van Buren, Craighead, Johnson, Randolph, Washington, Lee, St. Francis, Woodruff, Faulkner, Logan, and Saline.

Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of a Secretarial disaster declaration to apply for emergency loans. FSA considers each emergency loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of production losses on the farm and the security and repayment ability of the operator.