U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue declared 23 Arkansas counties primary natural disaster areas Friday because of recent heavy flooding.


The secretarial declaration is not the same thing as a presidential disaster declaration, which Gov. Asa Hutchinson has requested. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is still conducting damage assessments that must be completed before a presidential declaration can be made, Hutchinson’s office said.


Perdue, who visited Arkansas to view flooded areas earlier this month, informed Hutchinson in a letter that agricultural production losses in the 23 counties were sufficient to merit a primary natural disaster declaration.


Hutchinson said in a statement Friday, “I want to thank Secretary Perdue and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for granting my request to declare 23 Arkansas counties as disaster areas. The secretary saw firsthand the damage our state suffered due to flooding, including the destruction of thousands of acres of cropland. The disaster declaration will give our farmers access to emergency loans that will help them get back on their feet after last month’s devastating storms.”


The declaration includes Boone, Carroll, Clay, Conway, Craighead, Faulkner, Greene, Independence, Jackson, Lawrence, Lonoke, Madison, Mississippi, Monroe, Newton, Perry, Poinsett, Prairie, Pulaski, Randolph, St. Francis, White and Woodruff counties.


The agency also declared 23 other counties contiguous disaster counties. They are Arkansas, Benton, Cleburne, Crawford, Crittenden, Cross, Franklin, Garland, Grant, Izard, Jefferson, Johnson, Lee, Marion, Phillips, Pope, Saline, Searcy, Sharp, Stone, Van Buren, Washington and Yell counties.


Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of a secretarial disaster declaration to apply for emergency loans. The USDA Farm Service Agency 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.