USDA makes first 2013 drought declarations

WASHINGTON Wed Jan 9, 2013 12:35pm EST

WASHINGTON Jan 9 (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday named 597 counties in 14 U.S. states as drought disaster areas, its first such designations for 2013.

The move made all qualified farm operators in those areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans.

The counties have been in at least a "severe drought," as measured by the four-step U.S. Drought Monitor, for at least eight consecutive weeks.