Last week, USDA Undersecretary Michael Scuse visited with farmers and ranchers in Missouri and Kansas. Scuse is just one of several USDA officials to fan out to more than a dozen drought-affected states in the past two months as part of President Obama’s commitment to get help to producers impacted by the nation’s worst drought in a generation. Over the past eight weeks, USDA has helped to lead these efforts by opening conservation acres to emergency haying and grazing, lowering the interest rate for emergency loans, working with crop insurance companies to provide flexibility to farmers, and offering other forms of assistance meant to bring relief in the short and long term.
Most parts of Missouri and Kansas are in severe drought and have been for quite some time. The brown pastures, dried-up ponds and shedding trees all were signs of the persistent hot and dry conditions.
Arriving in Garden City, Mo., at the farm of Trent Smith, Scuse quickly saw that Smith’s corn had been harvested weeks ahead of schedule. Smith discussed planting cover crops and took the Undersecretary to a nearby soybean field to assess the drought’s impact on yields. Two weeks before the visit, USDA announced how it would work with the federal crop insurance program to allow haying or grazing of cover crops without impacting the insurability of planted 2013 spring crops, a move meant to provide forage and feed this fall and winter for livestock producers.
Scuse also had the opportunity to meet with beef cattle and dairy producers in Springfield, Mo. Most expressed concerns over the volatility of the dairy business, impacts from the drought, increases in feed prices, and what might lie ahead in the next Farm Bill. A week before the visit, USDA announced a two-month extension for emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres, freeing up forage and feed for ranchers and dairy farmers as they look to recover from the drought.
Martin Prairie Farms hosted Scuse at their dairy near Weaubleau, Mo. David Martin, a member of the Hickory County Farm Service Agency (FSA) committee, gave the Undersecretary and Missouri Department of Agriculture Director Jon Hagler a tour of the family farm. The Martins have experienced pasture loss and, like many other Missouri farmers, are facing a need for additional livestock water. A few weeks before the visit, the FSA provided an additional $14 million in Emergency Conservation Program funds to assist in moving water to livestock in need.
Driving south along Highway 7 in western Missouri, the Undersecretary also spotted CRP land that had been hayed recently. The Hilty Family Farm, a third-generation agricultural family in Henry County, Mo., is one of many Missouri farms that baled additional acreage this summer after USDA released CRP acres for emergency haying and grazing. Thanks to the availability of CRP acres, the Hilty family was able to get 1,511 bales of hay for other farmers in their community and forage for the difficult months ahead.
In the months ahead, the Obama Administration will continue to get help to the thousands of farm families and businesses who continue to struggle with this historic drought, while USDA continues to urge Congress to pass a comprehensive, multi-year Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that will continue to strengthen American agriculture in the years to come, ensure comprehensive disaster assistance for livestock, dairy and specialty crop producers, and provide certainty for farmers and ranchers.