USDA Declares Biggest Disaster Ever One-third of America's counties now natural-disaster areas By Kate Seamons, Newser Staff Posted Jul 12, 2012 7:55 AM CDT 29 comments Comments The US Agriculture Department has granted a disaster declaration for 69 of Arkansas' 75 counties due to the drought. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston) (Newser) – It's a confirmation of just how brutal this season has been: The US Department of Agriculture yesterday declared the biggest disaster in its history, identifying 1,016 counties in 26 states as natural-disaster areas. That covers about a third of America's counties, notes Bloomberg. The apocalyptic-sounding declaration brings welcome news for farmers and ranchers, though, who will now be eligible to receive low-interest loans designed to enable them to make it through the wildfires and drought plaguing the country. The USDA is also moving to speed up its processing of disaster claims, and is lowering the penalty for ranchers who permit their stock to graze on land earmarked for conservation. Among the other stats reported by Bloomberg, there are two more particularly grimace-inducing ones: About 53% of the Midwest is now suffering from moderate to extreme drought; and just 40% of the nation's corn crop was in excellent or good condition as of Sunday, down eight points in one week. Click to see the list of 26 states included in the declaration.