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By Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will announce millions of dollars in federal drought assistance Friday when he flies to California and tours fields and orchards ravaged by the deepening water crisis, aides said.

The president wants farmers to know he is paying close attention to the drought and has instructed federal agencies to expedite help, Tom Vilsack, the secretary of Agriculture, said Thursday.

“The federal government will do all it can to alleviate the stress associated with this drought,” Vilsack said in a call with reporters.

Obama will visit a farm in Fresno, aides said, to talk with farmers about the impact of one of the state’s worst droughts and the response of the federal government. He will unveil several initiatives intended to help California producers.

Among other directives, aides said, Obama is asking the Agriculture Department to open sign-ups for 2014 livestock disaster assistance within 60 days and to allow producers to request aid not only for this year but for losses over the last two years.

The livestock disaster programs took more than a year to get assistance to producers under the last farm bill, according to an administration official. The government seeks to cut that time and begin sign-ups in April.

California producers could be eligible for as much as $100 million for 2014 losses, the White House said Thursday night.

The Obama administration also will target conservation money to drought-affected areas, including $5 million in additional assistance to California.

To help people who lost jobs or steady work due to the drought, the Agriculture Department will make $60 million available to help food banks, the White House said.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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