Videos & Speeches
Back home in Kansas, we are spending our time down on our knees and then looking up to the sky. We are praying and hoping for rain. Our State, along with much of the country, is in a very serious drought. Crops are dying. Cattle are hungry and are being sold off and water is in scarce supply.
Every county in Kansas, all 105, have now been declared disaster counties. Half of the continental United States is in the worst drought since 1956, and the situation is expected only to get worse. In this photograph, my friend Ken Grecian from Palco, KS-it’s a little town in northwest Kansas-is pictured here with dry grass and hungry cattle. Over the past few weeks, Ken has had to reduce his herd at lower prices than before because there just is not enough feed to feed the cattle. Ken like many producers have been diligently building their herds of cattle over many years and are now seeing those cattle sold due to the drought, undermining their efforts, year after year, to develop a herd.
Paul and Tommie Westfahl from Haven, KS, just a little bit north and west of Wichita, and their two daughters Jenna and Raegan are pictured standing next to their failed crops. South central Kansas has been hard hit this year by the drought. The corn on the right never got above chest high and dried up months before it was time to harvest. Paul swathed and will soon bale his failed beans in the left of the photo and try to save some of that for feed for cattle this winter. Hard times are there and they’re not over.
The United States has a long history of drought and recovery. From the Dust Bowl to today, we have faced periods of drought. The thirties were often called the worst of hard times. Don Hartwell, a farmer on the Kansas and Nebraska border, captured how hard it was when he wrote in his diary on May 21, 1936: “15 years ago, the Republican River bottom was a vast expanse of alfalfa and corn fields. Now, it is practically a desert of wasted, shifting sand, washed-out ditches, cockle burs, and devastation. I doubt very much if it ever can be reclaimed.”
A few weeks later he wrote in his diary, “I wonder where I will be a year from now?” In the 1930s, folks were faced with severe drought which resulted in the Dust Bowl. People were forced to abandon their farms and ranches and to give up the only way of life they knew. Crops, livestock, and livelihoods vanished with the dust. They were unimaginable times. Thankfully, those unimaginable times passed and the rains came and the Republican River bottom was reclaimed.
This happened with the help of the good Lord and by individual efforts by those who refused to give in to those bad times, to give in to nature. If you look at the drought now and compare it to that of the 1930s, you’ll notice a huge difference. There is no Dust Bowl. The programs and conservation management tools that were used have worked. The forward-thinking American farmers and ranchers, the landowners who adopted new land and livestock management practices have made conservation the most effective drought mitigation effort available today.
But conservation programs are in danger. While many conservation practices can be planned and executed by individual farmers and ranchers, certain programs administered by the Department of Agriculture deserve our attention so that these important initiatives do not expire on September 30. In just about 60 days, farm programs will expire, and that means more uncertainty, compounding an already disastrous drought situation.
Right now, farmers and ranchers are wondering the same thing Don Hartwell wondered in 1936: Where am I going to be a year from now? As Congress debates the future of domestic agricultural policy, it is critical that risk mitigation tools are included for farmers and ranchers. Most important among these tools is crop insurance. With the absence of direct payments in both the House and Senate versions of a new farm bill, crop insurance is and will remain the last protective tool available to those producers.
Viable crop insurance ensures that a farm operation can survive difficult times, when there is drought or hail or flood, in hopes that they can experience a successful yield the following year. Farmers always have hope: Tough times now? Come back next year. But crop insurance, as valuable as it is, does not cover all the problems agriculture producers face, and particularly livestock producers are not usually generally eligible for crop insurance coverage.
These producers require risk mitigation and a safety net just like producers covered by crop insurance. Disaster programs for livestock, along with crop insurance for cultivation agriculture, give producers the security they need to plan and invest for the future.
Currently, ranchers and cattlemen are left with few disaster programs. The 2008 farm bill disaster farm programs expired this year, leaving producers across our drought -stricken country with less protection from Mother Nature. These programs are an important safety net for farmers and ranchers. Farmers and ranchers like Ken and Paul deserve to know what the future of these programs will be.
We should not expect producers to plant crops or to buy and sell livestock if they don’t know what the rules are. Putting these programs back in place and ensuring a sound safety net is vital for drought recovery, continued conservation work, and for the affordable food supply for the people of our country. Kansas farmers and ranchers shouldn’t have to keep guessing. It is too important to their families, their industry, and their Nation for more delay. We must give agricultural producers the long-term certainty and support they deserve. While we wait for Washington, we will continue to hope and pray.