BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- Farmers and ranchers in central and eastern Montana will be eligible for emergency loans from the federal government after suffering a series of weather disasters this year.

At the request of Gov. Brian Schweitzer, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday issued disaster declarations Wednesday for Fergus, Judith Basin and Petroleum counties.

That makes those communities -- and 10 surrounding counties -- eligible for low-cost loans and disaster reimbursements.

The region suffered a variety of severe weather in 2009, including drought, extreme heat, hailstorms and insect damage.

Department of Agriculture spokesman Jonathan Groveman said farmers and ranchers reported losses to hay, forage, pasture land, barley, corn oats and wheat. He said the total amount of damage was still being assessed.

U.S. Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester said the declaration would help lessen the economic pain for the state's biggest industry.

Still pending is a request for disaster assistance to 12 counties where sugar beet growers suffered an estimated $5 million in losses due to an October freeze.

That request was submitted Nov. 17.

Copyright 2009 The AP.

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