WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Agriculture will spend up to $170 million on chicken, catfish, pork and lamb for federal nutrition programs as a way of aiding drought-stricken farms and ranches.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Monday that the purchase would help ease pressure on American livestock producers during the drought.

USDA intends to purchase up to $100 million of pork, $50 million of chicken, $10 million of catfish and $10 million of lamb through its Emergency Surplus Removal Program.

"The purchases will help mitigate further downward prices, stabilize market conditions and provide high quality, nutritious food to recipients of USDA’s nutrition program," Vilsack said.

In Arkansas, agriculture officials believe the nation’s worst drought in 56 years is hitting the state’s cattle and poultry industry hardest.

Cattle owners have been forced to use up their winter hay supplies and are buying corn feed at prices more than triple the cost of three months ago, according to the Arkansas Department of Agriculture.

Last week, President Obama convened his White House Rural Council to review what further steps should be taken to help drought-stricken farmers and ranchers.

USDA has already designated 1,496 counties across the country as disaster areas due to drought, making all qualified farm operators in those counties eligible for low-interest emergency loans.

The Obama administration also announced more than $3.7 million in federal funds would be available to help Arkansas farmers and ranchers through the Natural Resources Service.