LITTLE ROCK —The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated 47 Arkansas counties as disaster areas, making farmers and ranchers eligible for financial aid to recover from last summer’s drought, members of the state’s congressional delegation announced Thursday.

Under the designation, Arkansas producers will be eligible to apply for assistance from the Farm Service Agency for up to eight months. Assistance will include FSA Emergency Loans, which provide funding to replace or restore property, pay production costs and essential living expenses, reorganize farming operations or refinance certain debts.

Producers should contact their local FSA offices for more information.

"With our state still reeling from last year’s drought, it’s important that we give Arkansas farmers and ranchers the tools and resources they need to get back on their feet. This disaster declaration will help producers recover and ensure that our agricultural sector remains strong," said Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., senior member of the Arkansas delegation.

Pryor was joined in the announcement by Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Reps. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, and Steve Womack, R-Rogers.

Arkansas’ newest member of Congress, Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, did not participate in the announcement. A spokesman in his office said the congressman supported the aid but was traveling Thursday, had not had an opportunity to review the announcement and did not want to hold it up.

Cotton gained notoriety last week by voting against legislation to replenish a fund to pay flood insurance claims of people hard hit by Hurricane Sandy.

"Last year’s record drought affected every farm family in Arkansas’ 1st District. Today’s disaster declaration from the Department of Agriculture will give these families access to emergency loans so they can keep their operations afloat," Crawford said. "While this assistance is welcome news, it only further underscores the need for a five-year farm bill that includes options for farmers facing disaster."

Counties included in the declaration include Baxter, Benton, Boone, Carroll, Clark, Clay, Cleburne, Conway, Craighead, Crawford, Faulkner, Franklin, Fulton, Garland, Greene, Hempstead, Hot Spring, Howard, Independence and Izard.

Also included in the declaration are Johnson, Little River, Logan, Lonoke, Madison, Marion, Mississippi, Montgomery, Newton, Perry, Pike, Polk, Pope, Prairie, Pulaski, Randolph, Saline, Scott, Searcy, Sebastian, Sevier, Sharp, Stone, Van Buren, Washington, White, and Yell counties.

Farmers and ranchers in 14 other counties also qualify for disaster assistance because their contiguous to those that received the declaration.

Those counties include: Arkansas, Crittenden, Dallas, Grant, Jackson, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lawrence, Miller, Monroe, Nevada, Ouachita, Poinsett and Woodruff.