The Obama administration has announced that it will provide a $170 million emergency bailout for drought-hit farmers by buying up pork, lamb, chicken and catfish.

The desperate measure comes after the worst drought in the U.S. in half a century destroyed one-sixth of the country's expected corn crop - a staple for feed - over the past month.

Agriculture Secretary Tim Vilsack said the purchases will stock food banks and other federal food nutrition programs, while helping producers struggling with the high cost of feed.
Concerned: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks after he tours the McIntosh family farm to view drought-ridden fields of corn in Missouri Valley, Iowa, today

The announcement came as Obama criticized Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan for blocking a farm bill that could help farmers cope with the devastating drought.

Obama touted his efforts to help farmers as he began a three-day tour of drought-hit Iowa, a political swing state that the Democrat hopes to win in the November 6 election.

'So if you happen to see congressman Ryan, tell him how important this farm bill is to Iowa and our rural communities,' Obama said in remarks to be delivered in Council Bluffs, on the Missouri River on the western edge of Iowa. 'It's time to put politics aside and pass it right away.'

As the House Budget Committee chairman, Ryan has demanded large cuts in Farm Bill spending, including food stamps for the poor. He was also campaigning in Iowa on Monday, two days after being chosen to be Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's running mate for the election.

Ryan voted for a $383 million livestock disaster aid bill that the House passed on August 2 before a five-week recess. A Romney campaign spokesman said 'no one will work harder to defend farmers and ranchers than the Romney-Ryan ticket.'

Under the plan announced by Obama, the Agriculture Department will buy pork, lamb, chicken and catfish with money from an emergency fund for responses to natural disasters. The food will be sent to assistance programs, such as food banks.

The president will also direct the Department of Defense, a large purchaser of meat, to 'encourage' its vendors to speed up purchases of lamb, pork and beef and freeze it for later use.

'This is a win-win. Farmers and ranchers will have an opportunity to sell more of their products at this critical time and taxpayers will get a better price on food that would have been purchased later,' a White House official said.

'The president has directed his administration to continue exploring every possible avenue to provide relief to communities struggling with this historic natural disaster.'

Obama's administration is also giving farmers and ranchers access to low-interest emergency loans, opening more federal land for grazing and distributing $30 million to get water to livestock.

Many ranchers have sold off livestock as feed costs rise and their pastures dry up. The selloff is expected to lead to lower prices through December with a glut of meat on the market, but higher costs beginning next year.

Severe drought across the nation's midsection has sent corn prices soaring by nearly 23 percent. More than half of all U.S. counties have been designated primary disaster areas this growing season, mostly due to drought.

Obama will tour an Iowa farm to view the effects of the drought. The state's economy is heavily dependent on agriculture.

Last week the governors of two poultry-growing states, Maryland and Delaware, asked the Obama administration for relief from the requirement to use corn ethanol in gasoline, saying corn is needed to feed livestock.

Iowa is one of a handful of political swing states, including Ohio, Florida, and Colorado, that could hold the key to victory in his race with Republican Mitt Romney for the White House.

First lady Michelle Obama was expected to join the president for events in Dubuque and Davenport on Wednesday.