Back home in Kansas we are spending our time looking up to the sky, praying and hoping for rain. Our state, along with much of the country, is suffering from a very serious drought. Crops are dying, cattle are hungry and being sold off, and water is in scarce supply.
Every county in Kansas — all 105 — has been declared a disaster county. Half the continental United States is in the worst drought since 1956 and the situation is expected to only get worse. Congress must act now to give American agriculture producers the long-term certainty they deserve and to ensure continued food security for our country.
The United States has a long history of drought and recovery. From the Dust Bowl to today, we have faced periods of severe drought — and American farmers and ranchers have shown their resilience.
The 1930’s were often called “the worst hard time” — a time when vast expanses of alfalfa and corn fields were turned into deserts and devastation. People were forced to abandon their farms and ranches and give up on the only way of life they had known. Crops, livestock and livelihoods vanished into dust.
Thankfully, the rains eventually returned and the American heartland was reclaimed. When you compare the drought we face today to that of the 1930’s you will notice one big difference — today there is no dust bowl. This is because forward-thinking American farmers and ranchers have adopted new land and livestock management techniques focused on conservation and preventing wind and water erosion.
Conservation agriculture truly is the most effective drought mitigation tool available today, but conservation programs overseen by the federal government are in danger at the worst possible time. On September 30th, the conservation programs included in the 2008 Farm Bill will expire, bringing more uncertainty to an already disastrous drought situation. Without the conservation programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farmers, ranchers and landowners will not have the tools they need to execute their conservation plans and protect land, water and wildlife.
Also in danger are critical risk mitigation tools — the most important of which is crop insurance. Paul and Tommie Westfahl from Haven, Kansas, recently sent me a photo of themselves — along with their two daughters Jenna and Raegan — standing in a barren field next to their failed crops. Thanks to the relentless heat and drought conditions, their corn never got above chest high and dried up months before it was time to harvest.
Now Paul is trying to salvage what is left of his failed bean crop to feed cattle this winter. The Federal Crop Insurance Program ensures that a farm operation’s like the Westfahls can survive difficult times — when there’s drought, or hail or flood — in hopes that they can experience a successful yield the following year.
But crop insurance does not cover all the problems that agriculture producers face — particularly livestock producers. Over the past few weeks, Ken Grecian of Palco, Kansas, has been forced to reduce his cattle herd at lower prices because of the lack of available feed. Ken, like many producers, diligently built his herd over the years and now has to sell because of the drought.
Currently, ranchers and cattlemen are left with without a safety net. The 2008 Farm Bill disaster programs have already expired, leaving livestock producers across our drought-stricken country without the security they need to plan and invest for the future.
It is imperative that Congress put the risk mitigation and conservation programs in the Farm Bill back in place, and give America’s farmers and ranchers the long-term certainty they need to produce food, fiber and fuel for this country and the world. It is not fair to ask producers to plant crops or buy and sell livestock if the rules keep changing. (Related Link: President Obama in Iowa: Congress Needs to Pass Farm Bill.)
Consistent farm policy is vital for drought recovery, continued conservation work, and maintaining an affordable food supply for Americans. Agriculture producers shouldn’t have to keep guessing – it is too important to their families, their industry, and consumers around the globe. While Kansas farmers and ranchers wait for Washington, they continue to hope and pray.
Sen. Moran serves on the Senate Banking Committee and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies. This subcommittee has responsibility for setting annual spending limits for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.
Prior to being elected to the Senate in 2010, Sen. Moran was a senior member of the House Agriculture Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives where then-Congressman Moran worked to craft legislation that allowed Kansas farms and ranches to remain viable in today’s competitive global marketplace.