The US government is extending drought assistance to farmers across 31 states with emergency help including low interest loans and being allowed to graze and cut hay on land in environmental and conservation schemes.

The US cattle herd, already at a 60 year low, faces a further reduction as producers contemplate culling to get through the drought while some maize crops are a write-off.

Two-thirds of the continental USA is classed as in moderate to exceptional drought with producers in 1,369 counties eligible for disaster assistance which includes low-interest emergency loans at 2.25%.

A further 76 counties in Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin were designated last week, with more expected this week.

The increasingly hot and dry conditions from California to New York have caused significant crop damage to many crops, said the US Department of Agriculture.

Corn and soya bean crop ratings are the worst since 1988 while more than half of the nation’s pastures and rangelands are rated in poor or very poor condition. Both crop and stock producers are struggling to cope with the economic loss and the practical implications of the drought.

Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack will also encourage crop insurance companies to provide a short grace period for farmers on unpaid insurance premiums, as some farming families are expected to struggle to make ends meet at the close of the crop year.

Special emergency loans are also available to non-farming businesses affected by the impact of the drought on their farmer customers.